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“On Dumpster Diving” by Lars Eighner Essay


“On Dumpster Diving”-by Lars Eighner, is a story of a man discussing his life being homeless and how he came to acquire his livelihood by scavenging through dumpsters, or in the author’s words; Dumpster Diving. The story begins with Eighner telling us, the readers about how he was always fascinated with the word dumpster before being homeless and also while being homeless; how he forged food, beverages, and other miscellaneous items in public dumpsters. Lars Eighner tells us nothing of how he became homeless, but he tells the life of him and his wife (Lizbeth) as Dumpster Divers. In this passage Eighner discusses the topics of shame, and pride. I will write about both of these themes in two separate paragraphs, while showing both are relevant to us as college students. “Dumpster Diving” talks about many college students and how wasteful they can be; especially when it is unnecessary. Lars Eighner said, “Students throw food away around breaks because they do not know whether it has spoiled or will spoil before they return”. Eighner also says, “Some students, and others, approach defrosting a freezer by chucking out the whole lot”. (Page 22) The story of this man’s life is and should be humbling, also simultaneously a life lesson for us all to follow as an example of how to be frugal and appreciate all that we possess.


The theme of pride was the first topic Eighner discussed when referring to a dumpster diver. “At first the new scavenger is filled with disgust and self-loathing. He is ashamed of being seen and may lurk around”. Eighner- (Page 23) The scavenger or dumpster diver is showing that he or she has pride, although in need they are conscious of what society might think of them. Eighner also speaks of pride in a different sense as well. He shows us that by the refuse of others, the items being discarded is also pride in the ones that have more than enough. To the readers Eighner shows us their apathy for what they have and how they take it for granted; as if these things will always be available. Pride is a terrible thing to have at times. Society looks at those who ask for assistance or a helping hand as weak; but it takes a strong individual to set pride to the curve and ask for help. Just as the dumpster diver scavenging through the trash; although it seems disgusting, when in need one must do what one has to.


The next theme which was discussed was shame; but in a more subliminal way. Eighner- “I live from the refuse of others. I am a scavenger. I think it a sound and honorable niche”. (Page 20) Eighner always made the term dumpster diver seem elegant. This word for many would imply filthiness, and impoverished. Eighner subtly edifies the word to hide the shame that was felt from the memories of being homeless and eating out of the trash; one would naturally do the same as Eighner. Shame is something that is felt by all at different points in our lives just as the “divers” felt. Eighner tells us that “While Lizbeth and I lived in a shack we began to eat from the dumpsters”. (Page 20) Eighner felt shame and embarrassment from the things he and Lizbeth were doing. While reading about this particular time in Eighner’s life, there is no way that anyone could not be humbled by his words. This way of living is well below modest; it is almost unreal the way he lived. It is impossible to fathom how this can be; and that is what Eighner wants us to realize. Eighner wants us as the readers to not see the trouble of people’s shame but the struggle from the shame, because we should appreciate where we are now, no matter how difficult life is or may seem; because it could always be worse.

Pride and Shame

As we take a look at both themes Eighner shows how they both coincide in reference to the dumpster diver. In the life of a dumpster diver Eighner explains how he felt pride and a sense of being in a better state of living as opposed to those more fortunate; and he explains how he felt shame as he was reduced to this decadence. In one particular memory Eighner says, “Every bit of glass may be a diamond, they think, and all that glisters, gold”. (Page 24)Now in this sense Eighner talks about how particular dumpster divers take everything they see of some value and they go over board; but nonetheless they take pride in the things that others call trash. Eighner himself speaks of how he took pride in his vast findings. “I am grateful, however, for the number of good books and magazines the students throw out”. (Page 26)Although Eighner talks about pride he shows us the shame that lies in dumpster diving and how they are closely related. Eighner- “Dumpster diving is outdoor work, often surprisingly pleasant”. (Page 27) “I have no better place for her than a dumpster. And after all, it is fitting, since for most of her life her livelihood has come from the dumpster”. (Page 26) Now even though Eighner finds joy in his life, he also finds discomfort and embarrassment. Pride and Shame coincide and simultaneously differ; and the two emotions left Eighner ambivalent about him and Lizbeth’s future.

After reading “On Dumpster Diving” I am inclined to agree with Eighner, “Take what you can use and let the rest go”. (Page 27) In life if we use or take more than we truly need, we never learn the value of things nor do we learn to appreciate them. I believe this because I have been given so much in life and used so little, whether it was food, money or time. I believe that us as Americans waste so much that we have forgotten the value of truly living and remembering others less fortunate; I know I have. While reading this passage it has changed my outlook on life and how much I consume and will consume in the future. I believe I will use less and appreciate what I do have, while encouraging others to do the same. Also while reading I felt remorse and sympathy for those less fortunate like Eighner. In conclusion this story is very touching and uplifting. Eighner shows us that no matter what life may throw our way we can survive and beat the odds, no matter how much they are against us.

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