Matthew Desmond’s Evicted illuminates the issue of low income housing and poverty that is prevalent across the United States. Desmond depicts what life entails in these communities in a direct approach using stories from actual people. The details of crime, the patterns of eviction, disparities in housing based on racial and social factors, and drug addiction are neither masked in elegant diction to soften the content nor purposely dramatized to exaggerate events to galvanize readers’ response. Evicted effectiveness stems from how Desmond presented his information. An intellectual approach consisting of statistical evidence, graphs, and other rhetorical methods tailored for a scholarly audience would be perceived as dulling to most readers. The case study appeal over the presentation of numbers and statistical dialogue allows readers to empathize with the individuals within the book in a humanistic manner.
A decision to write for an intellectual audience has the persuasive strength of logic. Desmond’s years of ethnographic research provides a plethora of statistical data he could use to support his arguments. However, his choice of an humanistic appeal conveys the message of eviction and low income housing are serious, unaddressed issues. Generally speaking humans are desensitized to numbers. Joseph Stalin, a tyrannical, ruthless figure in our world history, once stated “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.” 2 As chilling as that statement is, it reflects the inherent attitude of the general public towards tragic misfortunes. This is reasoning why some of the most public misfortunes and disparities are not properly addressed and those that succumb to toll they bring suffer almost in silence. The general public is aware that millions of families face evictions each year and struggle to find adequate housing. But no response or large scale reform is enacted to address the problem because people feel that it is too broad of an issue to remedy. Simply put, it affects too many people lives for one individual reader to provide significant aid. The eviction crisis is an example of a nationwide bystander effect. People know it is happening but remain silent and hope the issue gets addressed by some other party. An intellectual portrayal would only reiterate this common trend but statistics have a dehumanizing qualities. When the statistic of 22,824 evictions were filed in court in the state of Alabama (Desmond, 345) is presented it is not commonly perceived as 22,824 tenants. They are taken as 22,824 data points, numbers, units of measurements too detached from the reader to be viewed as an actual occurrence. This why numbers fail in portraying the emotional toll and just how devastating and serious the eviction problem truly is.
Instead Desmond narrowed his focus on a few individuals to tell the tale of millions of nationwide. When society’s spotlight is shown on just one or few individuals it invokes an emotional response that a presentation of issue as a whole cannot. Writing about the daily struggles, lack of autonomy, drug abuse, and dependence on the mercy of others of the individuals within Evicted the reader can understand the severity and challenges of these people’s lives. The stories parallel the adversity millions of other evictees face and Desmond successfully resonates the shared status of impoverished living felt by many nationwide. Sadly, society’s humanity is only manifested when individuals are portrayed needing help. When the number of those amidst this crisis grow exponentially their struggles are dismissed as natural, societal misfortunes. Despite presenting this arguments it should not be perceived as people being heartless, detached members of society. The intrinsic humanity within us is extracted more in individual cases than large sample sizes.
While depicting the life of people living in low income housing and facing evictions Desmond seeked to write objectively by presenting the issue from the landlord’s point of view. We can all agree that eviction is a devastating process that has repercussions beyond homelessness. When hearing stories about eviction landlords are often times villainized as unsympathetic, greedy urban despots to their tenants. However, the reality is like the case of Sherrena, a landlord, in Eviction. Landlords deal with their respective financial burdens and exercising leniency based on compassion can jeopardize the stake in their properties. “I guess I got to stop feeling sorry for these people because nobody is feeling sorry for me.” (Desmond, 11) Desmond does cite unfair eviction practices and tenants reluctance to call the landlord or even a building inspector to have a housing code violation addressed in fear of eviction. The in depth sometimes disconcerting details coupled with Desmond’s research shown in the form footnotes embedded throughout the book provide a compelling rhetorical approach to the reader’s pathos and lagos appeals.
Perhaps one of the most uniques features about the book is its indirect call for action. Desmond does not explicitly state in the book that the neglected social problem of eviction needs addressing nor asks the reader to partake in activism. Instead his call for action stems from the psychological effect the nature of stories in the book has. The heartbreaking realities that the people within the book live invokes a feeling of unjustified insensitive and social disservice in the absence of adequate activism. Desmond achieves in portraying the common narrative of large scale evictions and its effect by writing towards a broad audience rather than intellectual field. However, the book does not aim to cause the reader feel guilty. It simply presents information about the lives of many Americans that are seemly invisible in society’s scope. Whether one chooses to be a part of the campaign to address this or not ignorance and/or lack of acknowledgment that evictions are a prevalent issue in this country is inexcusable.
Joseph Stalin. BrainyQuote.com, Xplore Inc, 2016. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/josephstal161352.html, accessed September 27, 2016.
Desmond Matthew. Evicted. New York: Crown Publishers, 2016.