Critical Analysis of "Ragged Dick" by Horatio Alge

Essay add: 30-09-2015, 17:54   /   Views: 663
Critical Analysis of "Ragged Dick" by Horatio Alger Jr.

The book Ragged Dick by Horatio Alger, Jr. teaches the modern reader many things about life during the late 19th century. One thing it not only teaches but represents is life in the urban setting. This book is filled with examples and examples of life in the city, telling the reader what he would find and experience in it. Setting is always the first thing a good reader should look for when trying to understand the purpose. It teaches the reader where to begin when researching for the book and also how to place the characters. In Ragged Dick, “our hero” is in New York City during the latter part of the 19th century. “Our Hero” starts out as poor as one could be at the time and ended up educated, and as Dick would say, “‘spectable.” This was a time of progress, change and falsehood in American History. This not only has a vast effect on the plot of the book, but it makes for one heck of a tale.

The fact that the book takes place in New York is not enough to understand the full extent of this book. At this time many Americans were going through one of the hardest times in their lives. The only people making big bucks would have been the Robber Barons-- a small group of wealthy business men. So it is important to realize what this book said about urban living, to the readers it was written for. These readers would have been likely children, from all parts of the economic ladder. But most importantly the bottom part of that ladder would get something very interesting out of this book. They would see the main story here; a boy goes from rags to riches but getting lucky. Yes, Dick is an honest fellow who studies hard for his education, but all the times he got money were just by chance and had nothing to do with his education. First meeting Frank, receiving clothes and getting money and later saving a boy’s life and in turn getting a job. This teaches the reader that the city creates opportunity, and these opportunities are available and possible if you are in the right spot at the right time. This book says a lot about American urban life, and along with that comes an understanding of the mentality of the people reading it.

This book also teaches the modern reader something they could not get out a class lecture; the fast passed “run you over and leaving on the side of the road” city life. The opening thirty pages of the book are filled with account after account of a scam artist trying to pull a fast one on Dick. People like the salesmen that Dick tried to get change from, whom in turn tried to accuse Dick of trying to pass of counterfeit money. From there the reader learns something about the city through Dick’s belligerent attitude, when he and Frank pass by a shop. The scene goes as follows: “‘We’re selling off at less than cost.’ ‘Of course you be. That’s where you makes your money,’ said Dick. ‘There ain’t nobody of any enterprise that pretends to make any profit from his goods” (30). This scene clearly shows what life was like in the urban city--filled with salesmen who will say anything to get a customer, and smart little boys with attitudes. As Dick and Frank continue their tour of New York, they consistently find themselves in front of shops like the one just mentioned. One other thing that Ragged Dick teaches about the city is judgment. From the moment Dick gets a new suit and gets cleaned up not only does he receive better treatment, but in a scene where he and Frank are accused of stealing something on a train, they are acquitted because they did not look like the type of kids that would need to steal.

Dick’s environment is clearly the key to his success, for it is the place where all of the opportunity a person would need to get rich presides. If it was not for Dick living in the city, he would have never run in to Fosdick, Frank, or the boy that fell in to the water. These three things were the key to his success. Now these might not have been likely but nonetheless, they are the reasons for Dick’s progress. Fosdick provided Dick with the education he would need in a “place” or in job. Frank and his Uncle are Dick’s source of realization. Dick learns the most important lesson the city would ever have to offer when Mr. Whitney said, “but have met with moderate success in your life; yet there was a time when I was as poor as you…if your ever expect to do anything in the world, you must know something of books” (77). This is the moral of the story that if you keep to your morals and get educated, good things will come to you. There is the argument that the city is the source of Dick’s problems, but without the city he would have been just a poor boy in the country without any opportunity.

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