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Sample Essay on comparison of Krakauer's "Into the wild" and Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed"

Example of Compare Contrast essay, Sample Book Analysis Paper

  • Introduction
  • Analysis of " Nickel and Dimed" by Barbara Ehrenreich
  • Analysis of "Into the wild" by Jon Krakauer
  • Similarities and contrasts of the books
  • Conclusion

Similarities and contrasts between Krakauer's "Into the wild" and Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed" Essay

1. Introduction

A lot of books have been written in order to describe the lives of American people and the difficulties they face. Among all of them there some book that require special attention and analysis. Barbara Ehrenreich’s „Nickel and Dimed“ and Jon Krakauer’s “Into the wild” are two of these “special” books. The books contrast each other, as “Nickel and Dimed” deals with working hard and earning material “advantages” and “Into the wild” is about rejecting the material side of life. In “Nickel and Dimed” Ehrenreich, as the heroine of the book shows “the reality of American life with all its undersea stones” and “Into the wild” is a book about the search of the reality. Nevertheless, there is something that strongly unites these two from the first sight completely different books. It is the difficulties of American everyday life in “Nickel and Dimed” and as an echo the absence of faith in the ability to “find a place” in this reality for a young man, which forces him to escape and reject everything material in “Into the wild”. Constant struggle for the “economical survival” makes people very materialistic and weak. It brings insecurity into the souls of American people and an overweening attachment to everything material. All this insecurity eventually leads to the subconscious desire to run away. This issue especially touches young people, who still have “dreams” and who’s main goal it to perfect their personalities and not to “stick in” the mud of the material survival.

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2. Barbara Ehrenreich’s „Nickel and Dimed“
Barbara’s Ehrenreich’s „Nickel and Dimed“ is a very interesting work taking into account its peculiarities. The author becomes the main personage of the book. The task that Ehrenreich had before she started writing the book, was the following: to “taste” the life of one of the 12 million working women after the welfare reform. She, being a middle class representative rejected all the material privileges she possessed except $1000,a car, to save her time and a lap top, to write the book, in order to experience the life of one of these ”unskilled” women getting from $6 to $7 per hour. The idea of this work was to show the reality of the life of people like that. She changed three different locations in order to present the conditions in different states. Ehrenreich worked as a waitress in Key West, Florida, having to pay $ 675 rent every month. She also worked in Orchard Beach in Portland, Maine as a cleaning women and a nursing home assistant and finally as a associate at Wal-Mart in Minneapolis, facing the conditions which where close to homelessness. She got to the bottom, where people work immensely hard in order just to “make ends meet” or in other words to survive. She tried to live on the salaries she obtained from her jobs, and she came to the conclusion that it is almost impossible to do it. Millions of American people live this life constantly working, getting no sleep and still being honestly poor and “the trick” of surviving and of being able to work “lies in figuring out how to budget your energy so there'll be some left over for the next day"[1/195]. The only time Ehrenreich agreed that it was somehow possible to “exist” is when she had two jobs at the same time, worked seven days a week and everything she earned covered her expenses for her modest living and that was it. It is nothing but survival, survival that seems to be almost “animal like” without giving people the opportunity to grow personally and professionally.

The book “infects” the reader with the “fairness” virus. The author, even having certain advantages over other poor people still could not provide her living and expressed tons of difficulties. Ehrenreich writes: "Something is wrong, very wrong, when a single person in good health, a person who in addition possesses a working car, can barely support herself by the sweat of her brow. You don’t need a degree in economics to see that wages are too low and rents too high" [1/199]. Ehrenreich challenges primarily the “notion” of middle-class Americans about the life of people around them. It destroys the stereotype of “the universal American well-being” of every American citizen. One of the author’s main worries is the growth of rental prices on the background of wages remaining at the very same level. This contradiction, leads to the “deterioration” of the living conditions of these 12 million women fighting for the “opportunity to exist”. At the same time this book teaches middle-class American people to value what they have and understand the discontent of the “unskilled citizens”. The author describes what she experienced as a poor hard-working woman and implies that: “Someday ... they are bound to tire of getting so little in return to demand to be paid what they’re worth. There’ll be a lot of when that day comes, and strikes and disruption" [1/221]. 

3. Jon Krakauer’s “Into the wild”
Jon Krakauer’s “Into the wild” is a story of a young man who right after his college graduation decides to quit everything around him and escape to the place where the isolation from the society will be maximal – to Alaska. Here, the reader wonders why would a young, perspective and bright young man want to escape so far away and reject the goods of the materialistic world? This book portrays a man, who wants “to drop out” of the society he lives in but at the same time he is completely unadjusted to live outside of it. This reveals the contradiction between his desire to escape from people and inability to survive alone. This young man running away from this ambience is the symbol of man’s search for new life and the impossibility to make the changes. The author by writing this book seems to outline that an escape is not an answer to the problems that any person has in relations with the social “encirclement”. Being a “social dropout” never solves any problems that a man has. The conduct of this young man Christopher McCandless is a protest against the life which he is offered, against the “his future life picture” that he has already got, against his parents who try to “obtrude” him this ways of “normal” in their understanding life. All of these ideas are not clearly expressed in the book, but they are the underlying themes that a reader may obtain analyzing “Into the wild”. Analyzing Christopher McCandless as the main hero of “Into the wild” it is necessary to point out that he as a personality may be characterized as a self-centered one, because the man is centered on his needs only and through the book his inability to predict the possible difficulties he might face show his immaturity and inability to come to rational decisions. Christopher cannot even accept the thought of living like others, he is looking for new experiences, but in reality he does not know what he wants: "...he intended to invent an utterly new life, one in which he would be free to wallow in unfiltered experience”[2/22]. The price he pays for this is the price of his own life.  The man travels alone along the desert, almost die while canoeing. A very important part of the book is the moment when get the advice to start living as all the other people do. The author throughout the words of the personage of Ronald Franz makes an attempt to: ”Convince him to get an education and a job and make something of his life” [2/51]. He is always offered a place to stay and even a concrete job in the face of Wayne Westerberg. Christopher remains deaf to all these words and this brings him to his death in the woods of Alaska.

4. Similarities and contrasts of the books
Jon Krakauer’s “Into the wild” is a book completely different from the above mentioned “Nickel and Dimed” and at the same time it is powerfully connected with it and even “echoes its motives”. Both of the books deal with “surviving”.
In “Into the wild” it is the attempt to unskillfully survive and overcome the natural conditions, and in “Nickel and Dimed” it is the attempt to survive by having a job and earning enough not to be homeless. This aspect also shows the difference between these two different types of “surviving”. Barbara Ehrenreich and other 12 million women want to struggle but are not given the possibility to “be successful” and Chris McCandless has the possibility to be successful but does not want to struggle for it. In “Into the woods” Christopher does not have any desire to work and to change his life somehow working is just a waist of time for him; the book expresses a protest of an individual against the society which may be interpreted differently but in anyways shows him as a “weakling”. It may also be analyzed as a maturity issue mentioned above.

Ehrenreich challenges the “American Dream” stereotype of perfect and happy life where everybody has the same opportunities and Jon Krakauer’s Christopher still believes in the “American Dream” but this dream is “being free” for him and it is way exaggerated. It sounds more like his personal dream. “Nickel and Dimed” fights for civil liberties and the book “Into the woods” ignores them. One of the biggest contrasts of the books is the attitude of people that have never had all the conveniences to live properly without worrying for the next day and people that have always had everything but have never valued this fact. An important similarity to point out is Ehrenreich’s religion negation and the refusal to accept church as a place where people can get real help and support. Barbara lives alone and does not seem to need anybody as a:”poor working women”; she keeps a certain distance from people. Christopher is alone too or it is better to say that he is not but wants to be alone and keeps all the people that could have become his friends at the same distance we observe in “Nickel and Dimed”.

Million of people work and do hardly have any free time for their friends or relatives, but still they meet with them and these people are the ones who become an encouragement to keep on working and struggling. Both “Into the woods” and “Nickel and Dimed” touch the theme of voluntary social isolation, while interpersonal contacts would have done a lot of good to the people portrayed in the books. Barbara Ehrenreich calls towards changes and criticizes the existing American system that cannot provide equal opportunities, in this case economical opportunities, to everybody as it claims to do. Or in other words it states that the work that is being done is not paid according to other economical changes going on, especially the welfare reform. Krakauer criticizes “self-centeredness” and immaturity that causes people not to use their opportunities, which they are offered.

Ehrenreich while conducting her “experiment” forgets about the interpersonal issue and the importance of warmhearted relations in order to keep a person ready to go ahead and face any difficulties. It is an experiment, where these important factors are left out of the field of vision of the author, while “Into the wild” describes a “natural phenomenon” of a personal desire to stay away from other people. This “natural phenomenon” withstands an artificial experiment or in other words a laboratory experiment where the external factor becomes a gap in the study process.

5. Conclusion
Barbara Ehrenreich’s „Nickel and Dimed“ and Jon Krakauer’s “Into the wild” are two books really worth of reading in order to develop a well-shaped opinion regarding the role of a man in the American society, the possibilities that a man has and the choices that can be made according to this. The peculiarities of these two at the first completely contrasting books will lead away the reader to the world of the author’s thoughts and ideas which in the depth have a lot of in common.


  1. Ehrenreich, Barbara   Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America/Owl Books/2002.
  2. Krakauer, Jon   Into the wild/Anchor/1997.


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