“On Dumpster Diving”, “Coming Home Again” Essays Analysis


Life always presents challenges for people regardless of their origin. Some of these obstacles are manageable, whereas other are disproportionately more taxing. Similarly, many people do not encounter the difficulties, which are commonplace for others. Acquainting oneself with the accounts of such problems is a way of learning about the possible hardships of life and empathizing with peoples’ losses. The ability to build empathy is the reason behind the choice of the essay readings.

Three authors offer accounts of their past lives in their essays, each of which has unique value. Jennifer Sinor (2007) writes about the emotional and physical impact of her uncle’s death on her life in “Confluences”. Her almost miraculous coincidence of simultaneous death and conception is a major point of interest. Chang-rae Lee’s (1995) “Coming Home Again” manages to convey the difficulties of a Korean family through the descriptions of cooking and subtle conversations, which offer a unique perspective of an immigrant. Finally, an outlook on a completely different type of life is offered by Lars Eighner’s (1992) “On Dumpster Diving”. All these essays teach the readers to value the aspects of life, which are frequently taken for granted.

Challenges of the Readings

Sinor’s essay forced me to reread its passages several times. There are two difficulties, which impeded comprehension of the reading. First, the author frequently mixes the narrative account of actual events with memories of past relations leading to the current state of affairs. If I encounter such an authorial style in the future, I will be more prepared to comprehend non-linear storytelling. Second, Sinor leaves some meaning between the lines, while not actually stating it. Remembering this approach to storytelling will help me keep track of similar essays in the future.

Lee also foregoes linearity in her writing by adding lines, which inform the reader of the outcome long before the essay’s end. However, a more surprising aspect of the author’s account is the volume of descriptions. So much attention is put into the details of food cooking and manner of consumption that it took me some time to realize that these descriptions are plot devices. Knowing it, I will be able to extract more plot relevant information from future essays rich with descriptions.

An entirely different challenge was posed by Eighner’s story of scavenging. He spends the entirety of the essay describing his experience with finding food and valuables in dumpsters. My main struggle was understanding the message the author tries to convey. Initially, I had the impression that he romanticizes a life of a scavenger, but then I realized that his main point is valuing what many people take for granted, such as discarded food, old papers, and clothes. Next time I read such an essay, I will attempt to reconsider my first impression.

Highlight of Readings

Despite being different stories, “Confluences” and “Coming Home Again” actually seemed similar to me. Both focused on the loss of a close person due to an illness. Both essays had a moment when the relatives verbally acknowledge their medical conditions, yet the lack of subsequent dialogue conveys so much more than the actual characters’ lines. In both cases, I was surprised how writers can create value by making their characters avoid discussing of an evident problem.

The highlight of “On Dumpster Diving” for me is the transformation of the person. The author so vividly described how an individual undergoes stages in scavengers’ lives that the reader who has never attempted to extract food from a dumpster can relate with them. Whereas at first, I felt disgust for the description of people who live this way, but then I looked at my own life differently after reading the essay. The author’s ability to offer a different perspective with several pages is the most memorable aspect of this work.

Ask the Author

If I had an opportunity to meet one of the authors, I would definitely choose Lars Eighner. In my opinion, his story has the most value because it is written from a perspective of a person who lives a drastically different life from the majority of the population. Yet, for all the details of his scavenging, the story does not inform the audience why he shifted to this way of life. The reason for such a drastic change would be my question for him.

Personal Account or Journal Plan

I believe that reading about other people’s losses is an effective way of cultivating empathy. I would write about my experience dealing with a loss of a close friend. Only when he died, did I truly realize how much I missed and valued him. I would want my account to affect people on emotional level and reevaluate their own relationships. I would use Sinor’s and Lee’s non-linear storytelling to convey the message. I would also borrow Eighner’s and Lee’s descriptions to build momentum and make a powerful conclusion. Ultimately, people start to value what they have in life only when they understand the prospect of losing it.


Eighner, L. (2013). On dumpster diving. New England Journal of Public Policy, 24(1), 87-95. Web.

Lee, C. (1995). Coming Home Again. The New Yorker.

Sinor, J. (2007). Confluences. The American Scholar.

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