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Lars Eighner’s “On Dumpster Diving” | Review

On Dumpster Diving

Lars Eighner’s “On Dumpster Diving” is an intriguing essay that details the necessary steps to effectively scavenge through dumpsters based on Eighner’s own experiences when he was homeless. The essay contains anecdotal evidence that is engaging to the reader because of how Eighner normalizes a rather unusual topic by presenting the information as if it were found in an instruction manual. While the essay serves as a useful informational guide for anyone who finds themselves having to dumpster dive, Eighner accomplishes more than just providing helpful tips by addressing society’s preconceptions about homelessness. Society has the tendency to generalize about people of lower socioeconomic status and, in the case of the homeless, this generalization has a negative connotation. Eighner’s essay attempts to dispel these preconceived notions by using academic diction and a tonal shift from detached to emotionally passionate. He also strongly uses Aristotle’s appeals of ethos, logos, and pathos which effectively allow the reader to appreciate Eighner’s experiences rather than disregard his viewpoint based on his social class, especially when Eighner makes overt claims about materialism and the affluent that is difficult for the target audience to ignore.

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Pathos is not conveyed by the nature of the situation, in and of itself; Pathos is conveyed by the language of the writer. In On Dumpster Diving, we learn, immediately, that Lars Eighner was destitute for a while and was soon homeless. In light of this, everything in the essay could have been considered Pathos if that pathos were about the writer’s situation. It’s not. Seldom did Eighner ask for the reader’s pity which makes it the least common of Aristotle’s appeals in this piece. We only saw Pathos when Eighner employed diction which was consciously used to evoke our pity. In “On Dumpster Diving,” when Eighner talked about how the new scavenger is “filled with disgust and self-loathing,” the reader is reminded of degrading digging in the trash can be (par 39). Eighner goes on to explain how he can “wipe the egg yolk off the found can, but he cannot erase the stigma of eating garbage out of his mind” is evokes a feeling of secondhand shame (par 40). However, this was never directed at himself rather than his companions. The lack of pathos makes this composition more powerful. It is how comfortable and proud Eighner is, thus the surprising absence of sorrow, that demands the reader’s respect for dumpster diving. He does not feel as though he is suffering and therefore has little need for pathos which “evokes a meaning implicit in the verb to ‘suffer’ —to feel pain imaginatively” (Bean 1). He ends the piece in a very powerful five words: “I am sorry for them” (par 79). This is an example of pathos that is now directed at the reader. In few words, Eighner turns the feeling of shame into one of regret for the common person, mostly likely the one reading his writing. Initially, someone would feel sorry for him because of his living situation. Eighner, however, feels sorry for the materialistic people that surround themselves with what he would consider garbage just to feel okay. Although there is little pathos in this essay, it gives it purpose and leaves an affect on the reader.

“On Dumpster Diving” contains a plethora of academic diction and is structured as if written by a scholar. Eighner intentionally presents himself as educated not only to disprove any assumptions the reader may have about him based on his socioeconomic status, but also to relate to the target audience. Eighner establishes himself as being on the same intellectual level of the reader, which affirms his credibility and garners the reader’s respect. This is evident in the first paragraph of the essay, which begins with an account of how Eighner researched the origin of the word “Dumpster” by writing to Merriam-Webster, something that may come as a surprise to the reader. By adding this anecdote in the very beginning of the essay, Eighner can effectively “hook in” his academic audience. In fact, the continuous use of academic diction is akin to the type of language one would expect from an educated individual. In one instance, Eighner asserts that eating food from dumpsters is what “separates the dilettanti from the professionals” (par 9). This form of diction makes Eighner more relatable to the target audience by humanizing him as the readers’ intellectual peer rather than someone who is intellectually inferior. Thus, the preconceived barrier separating the audience and Eighner is slowly reduced, allowing Eighner to creatively earn the reader’s trust by using diction to establish ethos. He also gains this trust by showing that he is a respectable man who does not want to disrupt or disturb anyone else in his efforts as a scavenger. He claims that he “…never placed a bogus order to increase the supply of pizzas” (par 23) because he would not want to put somebody out of force them to throw away perfectly good food. Another example of this is how he claims that he will not go into the trashcans of private a residence because he believes it is a “personal kind of invasion to which I would object if I were a householder” (par 57). Larz Eighner establishes ethos by showing that he a respectable man who has been a scavenger for years so not only does he know what he is doing on a professional scale, but he does so in a relatively polite and honorable way.

Lars Eighner mainly builds his essay around the facts that he has learned while being homeless and all of the tips and tricks that he can give. This employs that he is an educated man and it helps one understand the knowledge needed to survive off a dumpster. This is the appeal of logos. Logos is the “logic used to support a claim …[and] can also be the facts and statistics used to help support the claim” (Bean 1) It is used slightly more than pathos and ethos as Eighner takes a very informative tone in his writing. He describes the presence and danger of botulism which is a serious form of food poisoning. Chances are, the reader does not know much about botulism and the information that he gives could be very useful. An example of this is when he states, “Although very rare with modern canning methods, botulism is a possibility. Most other forms of food poisoning seldom do lasting harm to a healthy person. But botulism is almost certainly fatal and often the first symptom is death” (par 13). Eighner also shares his recommendations for anyone who may be attempting the art of dumpster diving. One of these recommendations is to use a “…stout stick preferably with some barb or hook at one end. The hook can be used to grab plastic garbage bags” (par 70). Again, this demonstrates the logic that Eighner has acquired as well as an insight into his way of being. Most people would never think to scavenge in a dumpster, especially for their next meal. Not only that, but the idea of discarded and expired dairy would be repulsive to most. Eighner, on the other hand, loves finding thrown out yogurt because “yogurt will keep for several days, even in warm weather.” Logos is the most apparent appeal in On Dumpster Diving seeing as Lars Eighner is ultimately sharing what a day in the life is like rather than obviously persuading someone to live like he does.

The way in which Lars Eighner is persuasive in On Dumpster Diving is rather passive as he never asks the reader to do something nor does he write of a call to action. The way in which he is persuasive is simply informative which is why the presence of logos is so prevalent. The majority of the essay is rooted in logic. However, this becomes persuasive when he expresses his feeling toward those who support his way of life—the materialistic and wasteful people of his city. He never expresses that there is something wrong with them, rather than a statement of his own feelings towards them. Eighner believes dumpster diving, or scavenging, to be respectable way to live contrary to popular belief. Yet, he is resolute in reversing these presumptions early on and portraying himself as a trustworthy source, as evident in the third paragraph. Here, Eighner asserts his preference of the term “scavenging” over “dumpster diving,” stating that he “like[s] the frankness” of the word and thinks it to be “a sound and honorable niche” (par 5) The word choice in this assertion establishes ethos by demonstrating that Eighner, not society, determines his own classification as a scavenger rather than a dumpster diver. Through the use of Aristotle’s appeals, Eighner supports and elaborated on this idea. He uses pathos to pull at the heart strings of the reader to get them emotionally invested in what he is saying and to gain their respect of scavenging. He uses ethos to establish credibility as a scavenger so one will truly believe what he is saying, and he uses logos to inform the reader that scavenging is hard word that is beneficial he is rather proud to do thus making it sound and honorable.

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Lars Eighner’s “On Dumpster Diving” is successful in reducing the social separation between himself and the target audience in order to convey his concluding thoughts about materialism and the affluent while simultaneously retaining his credibility. The most impactful statement, however, is Eighner’s pity for those who go to great lengths to obtain material items, or pathos. By writing in an academic fashion, he is able to equate his intellect to that of his audience, or ethos. He offers logical information that build and support his writing, or logos. By writing in a straightforward and honest manner, Eighner garners the reader’s trust and dissipates stereotypes associated with the homeless. He is able to convincingly make these statements because of his established ethos throughout the essay. Ultimately, Eighner presents a very different perspective on a lifestyle that may not be respected by others and in doing so dispels the preconceived notions of dumpster diving.

Works Cited

  • Eighner, Lars. “On Dumpster Diving.” Untitled Document, producer.csi.edu/cdraney/archive-courses/fall06/engl102/e-texts/eighner-dumpster.htm.
  • Ramage, John D. and John C. Bean. Writing Arguments. 4th Edition. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 1998, 81-82

 



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