Many people are probably unaware of the fact that journalism played as important of a role in American society at the turn of the nineteenth century as it plays, now, in the early twentieth century. Still fewer people probably realize how important of a role child-laborers played in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in America, and the experience of being a part of the workforce from an early age shaped the views and lives of the generations who experienced this time in American history.
Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s fictional account of the life of one of these young laborers, “The Journal of Finn Reardon,” presents a convincing portrait of life and hardships in New York City in the year 1899 (Scholastic). Finn Reardon calls himself “a newsie you can trust” (Scholastic) and at thirteen years old, he “lives with his family in a Bowery tenement, sells papers to earn extra money[…
] Finn plans to quit school at fourteen and get a job at the newspaper office. ” (Scholastic). Finn’s life is very different from the life of a typical American thirteen year old in 2008. In addition to working both day and night at selling newspapers, Finn attends “a sixth grade class taught by Mr. Drinker who is “more stern than a prison guard” and uses the “power of the paddle” to discipline his students. ” (Scholastic).
So, for Finn, two aspects of life which are criminal in modern America are a typical way of life in his world: the physical punishing of children (what we now call “child abuse”) and the working of a child both day and night, (what we now call “exploitation”). The important thing to remember about Finn’s life as it is portrayed by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, is that, far from being an unusual life, Finn’s is a typical life at this time in America for a boy of his age and social class.
In fact, Susan Campbell Bartoletti is a well-respected researcher and expert in the history of child labor in America nd she has written other books which help to recreate what life was like in these times through her fiction. One of her previous books “Kids on Strike! [… ] is a well-researched account of the conditions and treatments that led to labor strikes by young people in the coal mines of Pennsylvania; in the garment industry of New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia; and in the cotton mills of New England.
” (Johnson, and Giorgis, 336). So it is important for readers to remember that while “The Journal of Finn Reardon” is fictional, the contents of the fictionalized account are authentically researched and the author of the book is very knowledgeable about the subject she is writing about. Other details of Finn’s life emerge as the novel develops: “His father never stays at one job very long, his Grandpa Jiggsy gets odd jobs only now and then, and his older sister Maggie must work at a pants factory, bringing home garments for Ma to finish.
” (Scholastic); after working so hard and suffering so much, all that Finn adn his family have to show for their hard work is a crumbling-down tenement apartment with fleas and cockroaches (Scholastic) so it is hard to see where the work-ethic that Finn displays is helping him or his family find a better life. During the course of the novel, Finn discovers that he and the other “newsies” are being shorted by the circulation manager of the paper they all distribute.
(Scholastic); after complaining without success, Finn and the others “decide to go on strike. Finn and his friend Racetrack help organize the newsies into a huge rally [… ] The solidarity of the newsies forces the newspaper owners to agree to a compromise, and the boys go back to work,” which shows Finn as both a leader and an emerging force in the future of America, both symbolically, and literally, as the character of Finn represents millions of people who lived real lives similar to the fictional life depicted in the novel.
Within the developing plot of the novel and the struggles of Finn and his family, there is a message which seems to suggest that individuality is very important, but that the individual can become stronger when made a part of a group: like the union of striking “newsies” which were able to make change when a single person could not make change. A few suggestions for possible continuation: Why is it important to understand the struggles of the past? What role to young adults presently play in American society?
Does the author glamorize journalists and journalism in the novel? What is “journalistic” about the novel itself? Works Cited Anonymous, “The Journal of Finn Reardon” Scholastic. com, 2008; accessed 3-21-2008 http: //www. scholastic. com/dearamerica/parentteacher/guides/mynameis/finn. htm Johnson, Nancy J. , and Cyndi Giorgis. “Memory, Memoir Story. ” The Reading Teacher 54. 3 (2000): 336. Rosser, Claire. “The Journal of Finn Reardon, a newsie – Hardcover Fiction – Book Review” Kliatt, July, 2003.
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