What it meant to be on the outside looking in.
Waiting for Nothing was an incredible piece of literature. It paints a very realistic picture of the hardships that these men and women faced in an urban area during the Great Depression. This point of view of a “stiff” (the homeless) is a sharp contrast to the other pieces we have read. Before, we were able to decipher pieces of the picture before of what life was like for them, however now we are presented with it in entirety.
Thomas Kromer was an educated Southern man, whose life was turned upside down during the Great Depression. He came from a fairly large working class family, with a job and a girl. When the Depression hit, he was forced to leave his home in search for a job and food. In Chapter four, Kromer is being courted by a man who asks him if he has ever had a girl, Kromer replies with “ You have to have dough to get a girl. Girls are expensive. If you haven't got any dough you haven't got a girl” (p. 44). He later explains how it was of no use for either of them to be in love when he lost his job;
“when a guy looses his job in his hometown, he has to grab himself a drag out of town. A guy can’t be dinging back doors for hand-outs and flopping behind signboards when his girl lives on the next block (p. 52).
We have not spoken about the hardships caused to relationships just yet. This excerpt makes it seem as though Kromer was doing the gentlemanly thing and leaving, sparring them both the embarrassment, heartache, and the possibility of his love joining him in a life of poverty.
Kromer writes from the perspective of a “vag”, not as an educated man. He uses common slang, repeatedly for emphasis. In addition, “through the reappearance of certain key images, phrases, and sentences that come to function as buzz words of pain and boredom” can we begin to understand what life was like (p. 282).
I noticed this right from the start in Chapter One during the restaurant scene. Kromer repeated says “I can tell that they are pure ... from where I am standing on the street” referring to the fine silver of the flatware and the man’s lack of appetite, as he eats because that is the appropriate time of day not because he has to survive. This repetition makes us trust Kromer as an author and an observer as he gives us the notion that he is all knowing, despite his lot in life. That is important for many Depression writers, because it is hard to tell now decades later who was fabricating the truth and who was giving us an autobiographical account.
Additionally, Kromer uses the words “look” and “see” throughout his writings. There is a clear distinction between these two words. When referring to the upper class gazing upon him or his fellow “stiffs” the word “look” is used. It is almost as if the homeless are an exhibit at the zoo, the wealthy dare not to go on the other side of the glass (or the restaurant window) for fear of confrontation or contamination. The stares of the upper class are simply that, just looks they do not see beyond the dirt of tattered clothing that these men and women were once at the table next to them. When he is referring to reverse, the word “see” is used. Kromer wants us to know that he is seeing these situations for what they truly are, not at a surface level like the upper class.
Wether or not, Kromer’s accounts in the book are factual or slightly altered, I do agree that this piece of literature preserves a time in America’s history accurately and with poise.