Robert Pinskys – “Shirt”

With the description of a shirt with “nearly invisible stitches along the collar”, Robert Pinsky’s leads his readers to an elaborate and colorful explanation of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (Pinskys 49). From the beginning of Pinsky’s poem, he subtly highlights the use of global labor when mentioning the Koreans and Malaysians. Instead of focusing on the horrifying deaths within the poem, he is able to allow the reader to reflect upon the situation.

Reading an article provided from the History website, I learned that the owners Max Blanck and Isaac Harris were morally depraved. The accommodations for the workers were absolutely terrible- “the ninth floor, no hydrants, no fire escapes” (49). Little girls were dropped from the building’s window because that was the only way to escape the sweltering heat.

Similarly in Bangkok, May 10, 1993, a fire broke loose in a Toy Factory, killing 210 people, 188 women and 14 men. With inspectors viewing the building, two very important necessities were missing: no fitting alarms or fire escapes – “initial investigations show one of the factory exit doors had been locked… [describing] the building as ‘obviously sub-standard'” (Whitaker).

From Robert Pinsky’s poem as well as the readings of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and Bangkok Factory Fire the reader is able to identify the relationship between consumers, commodities, and the global labor used to produce those commodities. In each of these instances, there was no worry about the person, the person’s family or life. As long as work is getting done, not even safety precautions matter. Consumers, even today are so unaware of the dehumanizing acts that are going on in clothing factories and such. In order to gain a tremendous profit, money-swindling owners hire immigrants, little girls, women, etc. to do what may be undesired work and for little pay. We have to open our eyes, look at the shirt “down to the buttons of simulate bone, the buttonholes, the sizing… the shape, the label the labor, the color, the shade…”(59). With an everyday object, Robert explains how everything is tied together, bringing attention to the individuals who provide what the consumers consume.


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