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Poverty in “On Dumpster Diving” by Lars Eighner


In his essay On Dumpster Diving, Lars Eighner explores the life of a person whose sole means of survival is dumpster diving. The author focuses on such themes as poverty, despair of homeless people, and their attitudes toward material wealth as well as the hopes that they cherish. The narrator of this story is an individual who has already become accustomed to dumpster diving. Additionally, the story-teller does hope to get off the street in the future, but at the same time, this person admits that these hopes are not realistic. Overall, Lars Eighner presents a through-provoking and impressive essay which enables readers to put themselves in the position of people driven beyond the poverty line. This work evokes compassion and prompts individuals to think about social problems existing nowadays. These are the main issues that should be discussed more closely.

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Adaptation to poverty

At the beginning of the essay, the author points out that the narrator has been homeless for a considerable amount of time. Moreover, this person has to sift through garbage to find anything valuable, especially food. He prefers to use the “scavenger” to describe his activities (Eighner 3). In his opinion, there is no reason to deny the fact that he is reduced to the state of complete poverty (Eighner 3). Furthermore, the story-teller notes that an individual can eventually overcome “the shyness” of being a dumpster diver (Eighner 8). This is one of the main details that should be considered. This argument is very important because it suggests that people can adapt even to the most difficult environment. Therefore, one should remember that poverty and deprivation can become acceptable to a person.

Attitudes toward more prosperous people and wealth

Additionally, Lars Eighner demonstrates that people, who have to live under such circumstances, change the attitude toward wealth, prosperity, and culture. For instance, the narrator describes people, who struggle for economic prosperity, as “rat-race millions” (Eighner 14). Therefore, this person does not want to perceive himself as an outcast (Eighner 14). Moreover, the narrator does not regard material prosperity as something necessary for every individual. Therefore, he adopts a contemptuous attitude to materialistic values. This issue is also important for describing the life of homeless people. To a great extent, they have to find arguments that can help them reconcile with their experiences. This is one of the main issues that can be singled out.


Apart from that, in this essay, Lars Lightner focuses on the theme of hope since it is one of the things that help homeless people overcome the hardships that they face. The narrator cherishes the hope that someday it will not be necessary for him to live as a dumpster diver. Therefore, he understands that his current existence is eventually doomed to failure. However, the narrator cannot find any way of achieving this goal. So, this hidden despair is one of the main themes in Lars Eightner’s essay.


On the whole, one can argue that Lars Lightner’s essay can throw light on the feelings of people who are usually excluded from public life. This work prompts readers to consider the difficulties that homeless people are forced to overcome. This essay is a powerful narrative showing how the values and attitudes of individuals can transform because of economic hardships. These are the main aspects that can be identified.

Works Cited

Eighner, Lars. “On Dumpster Diving”. 75 Readings: An Anthology. Ed. Santi Buscemi and Charlotte Smith. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2009. 1-14. Print.

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