September 23, 2007


Nels Anderson’s The Hobo: The Sociology of the Homeless Man gives a first hand account of hobo life in Chicago. Through his personal experiences Anderson portrays a different side of hobos and it was interesting to view the subculture from an internal rather than external perspective. From the beginning, Anderson challenges popular stereotypes of hobos by deconstructing the images, or labels, that support them, such as laziness, instinctual rather than domestic behavior, distaste for labor, and unhygienic lifestyles. Anderson first deconstructs the idea of the lazy hobo with a distaste for labor by describing his father, “a real hobo worker? (pg 1), as a hard worker who did not settle in one place for long. “..this process of moving from job to job was a continuing adventure? (pg 1). While the majority of the men in his family took to wandering or becoming migratory workers, at some point in their lives, “none…became a drunkard, gambler, or loafer? (pg 22). Anderson acknowledges the widespread issue of alcoholism in the hobo lifestyle, however, he also makes it clear that it does not define their lifestyle and it has positive and admirable aspects as well.
Next, Anderson describes the intellectual hobo, as hobos were seldom illiterate. He says that the hobo had a stronger interest in reading and “a higher degree of mental curiosity and cosmopolitan interest than most workers? (p 27). He also discusses Bughouse Square where hobo intellectuals gather to think, listen or talk. Anderson also respects the hobo and sees the lifestyle as challenging and admirable as not everyone could handle it as you need to be very resourceful. He does not see it as last resort but more of a choice. “…the hobo way of life was severely selective…?(p 26) Anderson changes the perspective on homelessness, discussing that a person needs to be skilled to become one versus the idea that an unskilled person would end up becoming pushed into the lifestyle.
Anderson also deconstructs the idea that hobos are instinctual, dirty, and reject society. This is exemplified best in his discussion about the “jungle?. The jungle is a semi-permanent settlement of hobos who either stop there for a moment or stay there for an extended amount of time. It has become a small society with rules all inhabitants must live by. One of these rules is to keep the jungle clean, hobos must clean all cooking utensils and cans and those who do not abide by the rules are subject to punishment or are kicked out. The inhabitants also share with each other as long as there are mutual efforts to obtain food to eat and people are not “jungle buzzards?, or men trying to live off of others’ efforts. The hobo also learns to be his own housewife. Women were scarce in hobo society so the men learned domestic duties, and learned them well, to survive. The hobos of the jungles were skilled at cooking and cleaning. “The hobo who lives in the jungles has proved that he can become domesticated without the aid of women. He has established the habit of keeping his clothes and person clean…The man who cannot…learn these…principles of housekeeping is likely to fare ill in the jungle.? (p 43)
The hobos of the jungle also had to abide by other laws such as jungle etiquette. Food is often shared if a man has enough food for himself. Also, if someone does accept food from another hobo he would wash the dishes that were dirtied during that time. Most of these “laws? are understood by the hobos and are not written down. They are enforced by the inhabitants and order is maintained by a mutual understanding and respect for these laws. In Anderson’s account of the hobo jungle, the police raided the jungle and the community created by the hobos became more apparent as some chose to band together with talks of revenge. The concept of the jungle dispels stereotypes of hobos as rejecting society and being instinctual. Through the jungle, the hobos created a smaller and marginal society complete with laws and community. These examples take on the popular misconceptions that are associated with hobos and give a different perspective on them proving that not all stereotypes hold up in real life.