Destitution and wealth concentration

Economic inequality and poverty are increasingly referenced in political and social discourse today. Many conversations draw attention to the widening wealth gap in America and emphasize its status as an unprecedented economic circumstance. The purpose of this piece will be neither to discuss theory as to the underlying cause of this disparity nor to estimate the ethical permissibility of such a system; this writing will examine a historical literary depiction of sheer destitution and discuss the likelihood that such a scene could unfold in our modern society. The aim of this discussion will be to prompt sensory thought on the sights and sounds of a desperate scene of poverty and to put our current national and global circumstance in perspective with events in history.

The themes of poverty and abundant wealth extend back hundreds of years into history and have been written on by scores of authors and historians. One such prominent example is Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, a classic work of historical fiction that explores a the French Revolution during its kindling and commencing stages. Major themes in the French Revolution include extreme poverty, the plight of the peasantry, and the tyranny of the affluent. In one of A Tale’s early chapters, Dickens illustrates a highly desperate scene as impoverished people react to some spilled wine on a street.

What is depicted is sheer chaos that is unleashed when some destitute townspeople are drawn to a broken wine cask. “Some men kneeled down, made scoops of their two hands joined, and sipped, or tried to help women, who bent over their shoulders, to sip, before the wine had all run out between their fingers.” Dickens proceeds to create a tactile sense of deprivation and ruthlessness among the people of the city.

This scene serves not only to foreshadow the devastation that will be brought about by the Revolution, but it also demonstrates the utter destitution and bloodthirst of the French peasantry. The desperation of the impoverished, despite being depicted in this context in a work of fiction, is arguably largely realistic. In our world today, the same kinds of sweeping wealth gaps that have fueled the anger of revolting classes in revolutions past still exists within and throughout nations, widening the divide among classes and intensifying social divisions between the rich and poor.

Furthermore, countless populations are still burdened with the same kind of destitution described by Dickens in his wine cask scene. Millions of people in today’s world go without basic resources such as food and water for times of such length that it would not at all be surprising to see an event similar to the one described unfold should food or water be spilled upon the street. However, minding the world’s economic corruption and staggeringly disproportionate wealth, some regions would be more inclined to demonstrate this desperation than others.

Developed nations such as the U.S., in contrast, entertain populations that are so well-fed that the challenge of starvation is displaced by the crisis of obesity. For those Americans who do not have proper access to food, various organizations attempt to provide those populations with adequate means for survival by creating food banks and founding charities. Many people in other countries are not connected with such humanitarian assistance. The option to request the charity of an altruistic neighbor, in their case, is nonexistent, and in its place looms the reality that starvation is widespread and imminent. The abundance of and overindulgence in food in the United States is evidence that the average American has access to more food than he or she needs. This is a thought-provoking scenario to consider, at the very least.

The economic stature of the U.S. is due in at least small part (among many other complex historical influences) to the ideal geographic region that the U.S. occupies, with generally moderate temperatures and numerous water sources, which in earlier times of economic development enabled land to be well-utilized and for populations to (eventually learn to after some tough colonial fails) efficiently hydrate themselves. The U.S. was much better geographically poised for success than, say, Chad, which is landlocked about about 50% desert. The behavior of climate and other natural factors greatly influences the availability of food and water to a nation’s population, making geographic location yet another reason why many populations throughout the world are more heavily vulnerable to famines and droughts of lethal proportions.

In almost no circumstance could one feasibly project the large-scale occurrence of a scene such as A Tale’s wine-scrambling in the United States or any other developed nation today. It certainly is a mental exercise, however, to pause and consider the reality that nations stricken with such degrees of poverty do in fact still exist here beside us in our modern and illustriously wealthy world, and even among us here at stoplights and on street corners.