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The Harbor [Paperback]

Ernest Poole , Patrick Chura
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Dec 27 2011 Penguin Classics

Ernest Poole's bestselling, muckraking classic about the plight of the worker.

The best-known novel by the winner of the first Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Ernet Poole's The Harbor was published in 1915 to instant acclaim and remains his most important book. At the heart of the story is Billy, an aspiring writer who struggles to reconcile his sympathy for workers with his middle-class allegiance to capitalist progress. As Billy comes of age on the New York waterfront, an eyewitness to explosive tensions between labor and capital that culminate in a violent strike, he learns to embrace socialism as the solution to the harbor's seething injustices. This novel, one of the most direct literary treatments of class warfare, is a valuable social history and a powerful testament to Poole's legendary talent.


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Review

"Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Frank Norris’s The Octopus and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath are still readable and powerful enough to move the reader, but most other examples of American protest fiction must be soldiered through. To the small company of exceptions should be added The Harbor itself, by Ernest Poole, which Penguin Classics has rescued from oblivion."
(Dennis Drabelle, Washington Post Book World)

About the Author

Ernest Poole (1880-1950) was born in Chicago and educated at Princeton. In 1902 he began his writing career as a muckraking journalist, living in a settlement house in the New York slums to further his research into the causes and conditions of poverty. He published twenty-four books, including works of fiction, history, and journalism.
Patrick Chura is an associate professor of English at the University of Akron, Ohio.

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4.0 out of 5 stars Society And Class In The Early 1900s Jan. 29 2008
By Dave_42 TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
"The Harbor" is Ernest Poole's best known work, although his later work, "His Family", would be the first novel to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1918. "The Harbor was published in 1915, and the novel is among the first, if not the first, to present labor unions in a positive light. Though certainly a gritty novel for its time, I would not doubt that many readers today might find it rather tame. Ernest Poole clearly had sympathy for socialist causes, and this can be found in much of his work.

The novel is written from the perspective of a writer (Bill) as he experiences his life on the Brooklyn waterfront, from his boyhood through the great strike which has such a large effect on his perspective. Many of the brief descriptions of this novel focus on the union aspect of the story, which is certainly important, but I think there is more to the novel than just that. The novel has four books in it, and the union aspect does not appear until the third section, although certainly some of the groundwork is laid before that.

The first book deals with Bill's childhood and his growing up by the harbor. The harbor goes from being an area of mystery and curiosity, to one of fear, and eventually hatred. Bill escapes the area by traveling to Europe, thanks to his mother who insists that he be allowed to do so. This section also introduces almost all the important characters in the novel. We have Bill, his mother, his father, his sister Sue, and her friend Eleanore. We also have the introduction of Joe Kramer, who plays a key role in Bill's life, often forcing him to deal with situations and issues which otherwise he might rather ignore.

The second book sees Bill return to the Harbor.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Society And Class In The Early 1900s Aug. 17 2007
By Dave_42 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
"The Harbor" is Ernest Poole's best known work, although his later work, "His Family", would be the first novel to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1918. "The Harbor was published in 1915, and the novel is among the first, if not the first, to present labor unions in a positive light. Though certainly a gritty novel for its time, I would not doubt that many readers today might find it rather tame. Ernest Poole clearly had sympathy for socialist causes, and this can be found in much of his work.

The novel is written from the perspective of a writer (Bill) as he experiences his life on the Brooklyn waterfront, from his boyhood through the great strike which has such a large effect on his perspective. Many of the brief descriptions of this novel focus on the union aspect of the story, which is certainly important, but I think there is more to the novel than just that. The novel has four books in it, and the union aspect does not appear until the third section, although certainly some of the groundwork is laid before that.

The first book deals with Bill's childhood and his growing up by the harbor. The harbor goes from being an area of mystery and curiosity, to one of fear, and eventually hatred. Bill escapes the area by traveling to Europe, thanks to his mother who insists that he be allowed to do so. This section also introduces almost all the important characters in the novel. We have Bill, his mother, his father, his sister Sue, and her friend Eleanore. We also have the introduction of Joe Kramer, who plays a key role in Bill's life, often forcing him to deal with situations and issues which otherwise he might rather ignore.

The second book sees Bill return to the Harbor. Here he is forced to deal with his father's desire to have him help with his business, as well as the changes which take place there. He is also reintroduced to Eleanore, who helps change his feelings for the Harbor from one of hate, to that of ambition, and happiness. Eleanore's father introduces him to his "new god", efficiency, and the dream of a better future for the harbor. It is also in this section where Bill starts his career as a writer, using the harbor as the backdrop for his stories.

The third section jumps a little forward in Bill's life, and we find Bill still writing about the Harbor, from the point of view of efficiency. Joe continues to challenge Bill, and this time it is with respect to the condition of labor. We see in this section Bill's attitude change towards the coming conflict between labor and capitol as he is torn between Joe and Eleanore's father. In many ways Bill's position towards the labor movement parallels the changes in his perception of the harbor earlier in the book. As a writer he starts out curious, he then becomes somewhat disdainful, and then moves to support for the cause.

The fourth book is the shortest of the novel, and serves to close out the story of Bill's life so far, and gives an indication of where he is going. While there is little doubt that Ernest Poole supported the cause of labor, I think it is fair to say that he offered a reasonable look at the issue in this book. He doesn't deny the idealism of those on the side of business and their ultimate goals, but he clearly doesn't believe they are likely to be achieved. At the same time, while he does support the cause of labor, he does not ignore the ugly side of the movement.

This is an interesting book, although there are probably some people who would find it a bit slow moving. I enjoyed it, and I think it provides an interesting look at social concerns which existed in the early 20th century in New York.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brooklyn waterfront in early 20th century June 12 2013
By Politera - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Primarily attracted to this book because my father was born in Brooklyn in 1907, just a couple blocks from the waterfront. I hoped to get a sense of the place where my father grew up. The fact that the book was the best work of a Pulitzer prize winner was another plus. It was my first time reading a "socialist conversion novel" set in the harsh working conditions of the NYC harbor. Actually I didn't think the union organizers were favorably portrayed. The union leader risked the well being and even the lives of his wife and 6 year old daughter. Perhaps that was intended to show how dire the circumstances. Still the story is well done.
The novel shows that the NYC harbor was a window on the world for the locals, with ships coming in from many countries. It also shows how different things were compared to 100 years later. My dad dropped out of high school in the early 1920's to get a job and travel around. Life was rough and tumble then. Poole's novel tells it like it is..... and was based on a real strike of silk workers in nearby Paterson NJ in 1913.
If you want a taste of the Brooklyn waterfront in the early 20th century, here is a good sample.
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