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Poverty Is a State of Mind

In: Social Issues

Submitted By annaludmilla
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”Living in Poverty” – Richard Wright
The definition of poverty can be a very individual thing, but if you ask people what they think poverty is, I think that most of them would say that it is lack of money. However, I also think that some of them, just a little group of them, would say: “Some people are so poor, all they got is money”. This is just one of the discussions, which involves poverty. It is also discussed whether poverty always will be in someone’s life if they are raised in it – and whether everybody has equal conditions when it comes to having a life without poverty, as a child or as an adult. In the essay “Living in Poverty” by Richard Wright poverty is the main theme. Richard Wright invites us in to the debate with his personal experiences and his story about living in Britain’s poor environment. Through the story Richard Wright get us to think – is poverty something in our mind? And is poverty really the only option for someone?
The essay “Living in Poverty” is a creative non-fiction essay. More specifically; a personal essay, so I assume that Richard Wright is the “I” in the story. The essay is focusing on the topic ‘poverty’ through Richard Wright’s own stories and are therefore based on true and personal experiences. The whole story is about Richard Wright growing up – his childhood, teenage years and years as an adult. Richard Wright grew up in poverty, but he expresses that he never felt poor or saw he his family as a poor family. He grew up with a loving family, a safe neighborhood and good friends. Richard Wright even manages to get an education.

Richard Wright is through the whole essay trying to substantiate his claim. His claim is that poverty is not only about the amount of money a family has, it is “a state of mind” as he says. The fact that he tells about how he ends up as his parents, drinking and smoking, but afterwards gets on with his life, supports this claim. Even though, Richard Wright also sees poverty as barrier: “Education is one pathway out of poverty, but the road is only worth taking when combined with social justice”. (Page 3)
The social structure is not a fair playground, where everyone have equal opportunities. Not everyone is able to take the matters into their own hands and fight himself or herself through and out of poverty. This is here Richard Wright uses contrast. He uses contrasts between the poverty he was in as a child and the kind of poverty the children in Britain is living in today. He tells about how he comes across “a glaring example of child poverty”, which makes him want to fight – to begin the “process of truth and reconciliation”. But he is still not only talking about the kind of poverty where you do not have a lot of money. He talks about: “The worst poverty is found when there is a lack of education, understanding, hope – liberty, fraternity, egality, as the French say”. (Page 4-5)
In contrast to this, Richard Wright tells us about his father and the miners, and how they after the strike still met to drink beer and play domino: “Their lives depended on each other underground and they were as close as men can be”. (Page 5)
This greatly supports that poverty is a state of mind. The kind of poverty that Richard Wright knew was safe, full of love and support. The kind of poverty Britain’s children is in today is everything apart from that. This use of contrast also supports Richard Wright’s claim, because Richard Wright’s father was poor in money but not at all in mind. These children, who Richard Wright meets is poor in both mind and body. This makes Richard Wright’s claim logical to us, because if his father and his friends were happy in their situation, poverty must be a state of mind. He also uses a little humor and irony to underline this contrast: “I happily wasted my life (…)” (Page 3)
Irony and humor is a great rhetorical device, because it catches the audience and makes the story a bit interesting.
Another contrast Richard wright uses is also the contrast between his life in “the world of drugs” and “the world of crime” and his life as an educated and hardworking man. This contrast is also a substance for his claim, because it convinces the reader that if someone like Richard Wright, who ones was a “mindless thug”, can have a ‘normal’ life today, everyone can. It also tells the reader, which conditions the poor lives under.

Richard Wright is in general using ethos. The fact that he uses his own life story to back up his claim makes him very trustworthy. It is something he has experienced himself, so why should we not believe him? The experiences he includes is not coincidental. For example: “A year later, I was plunged right back into poverty again”. (Page 3)
Here he uses his experience to show that not everyone has equal opportunities. Even though he though for a better life, life was not always his friend. The way Richard Wright builds up his argumentation is also something, which seduces and catches the reader, because it is like reading a story. This is something, which is typical for a creative non-fiction essay. At last, Richard Wright is also using pathos: “The original ‘feral’ youth, they made my childhood seem positively pastoral”.
Richard Wright is appealing to the feeling of indignation in the reader. Indignation of the unfairness there is in the social mobility in Britain. He wants to provoke us and to make us think.

All in all, Richard Wright is convincing in his argumentation. The fact that he uses his own life story is both a strength and a weakness. It convinces the reader, that Richard knows what he is talking about, but the fact that he only uses this as a substance, also makes his argumentation very one-sided. He includes no “real” facts, no statistics or other sides of this debate, which also weakens his argumentation, because the reader has no proof that he is speaking the truth. It can also be discusses, whether poverty really is a state of mind. The definition of poverty may be a state of mind, but there still comes things with it, as Richard Wright himself mentions – drinking, smoking, drugs. The psychological consequence is not a state of mind, I would say – and it is proven that the psychological consequences are heritable. This is something Richard Wright misses when he wants to argue that poverty is a state of mind. So, Richard Wright has nothing but his own experiences to cling onto, which in general is a good substance to his claim, but it is not long-lasting. I do think, that Richard Wright got something when he talks about the missing equal opportunities, but he is still missing substance. Poverty may be a very individual thing, but poverty is also much more than that. Maybe we should start with the real question – what is property and the causes of it?

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