Horatio Alger Ragged Dick Essay

Length: 4 pages Sources: 2 Subject: American History Type: Essay Paper: #80869146 Related Topics: Photography, American Dream, Online Dating, Age Of Innocence
Excerpt from Essay :

¶ … Ragged to Riis's: Conflicting Views Of The American Dream

Life in New York City at the end of the 19th century was exciting but tumultuous. Social class stratifications rose to the surface as successive waves of immigrants from widely different parts of the world spilled into the urban core seeking their fortunes, or their version of the American Dream. As many of those who succeeded in achieving upward social mobility, there were countless others who failed. Stories of the urban poor have been chronicled by fiction writers like Horatio Alger, and also by photojournalists like Jacob A. Riis. Through their respective lenses, it is possible to glean a comprehensive understanding of the triumphs and failures of the American Dream. Whereas Alger presents an idealistic picture of the American Dream replete with its saccharine propaganda, Riis offers a grittier and perhaps more realistic interpretation. Part of the reason for the glaring differences in these two texts is likely related to their timing. Alger's Ragged Dick was published in 1868, decades before urbanization and immigration occurred on the massive scales that they would later in the 1890s, when Riis chronicled social, economic, and political turmoil in How the Other Half Lives.

In Ragged Dick, the title character starts off as a young, enthusiastic, and optimistic "vagabond" eager to improve himself, his character, and his station in life. Because Dick does achieve his goal of upward social mobility, Alger sends a strong message about maintaining hope in spite of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles in achieving the American Dream. It is important to note that Alger ensures his hero is inherently honest. Although he swears and gambles, "He would not steal, or cheat, or impose upon younger boys, but was frank and straightforward, manly and self-reliant," (Alger 3). Alger wants his protagonist to be someone readers can relate to, and therefore not a perfect boy but one who is nevertheless morally upright. In How the Other Half Lives, Riis does not...

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Instead of examining the psychology of the rags-to-riches story, Riis looks at the broader sociological issues that arise during the process of mass migration, urbanization, industrialization, and diversification. Because of his focus on tenement life, too, Riis ends up missing out on the glimmers of hope and optimism that doubtlessly remained alive in spite of the often deplorable living and working conditions the author witnessed.

Like Alger, Riis is interested in raising awareness about the nature of "vagabond" life. Riis calls people like Ragged Dick "tramps," and "street urchins." Unlike Alger, Riis interjects racist stereotypes into his work. His chapters on Jewish and Chinese people are especially offensive. About Chinese people in Chinatown, Riis writes, "Ages of senseless idolatry, a mere grub-worship, have left him without the essential qualities for appreciating the gentle teachings of a faith whose motive and unselfish spirit are alike beyond his grasp," (Chapter 9). Likewise, Riis states about Jews in Chapter 10, "Money is their God. Life itself is of little value compared with even the leanest bank account." His statement is not only rabidly bigoted but also contradictory as in the previous paragraphs the author refers to the abject poverty of the tenement houses. Clearly, Riis's primary objective in How the Other Half Lives is to look down on people and describe in grim detail how the squalor of their living conditions is a sign of the moral turpitude of the immigrants who simply wanted…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

Alger, Horatio. Ragged Dick. 1868. Retrieved online: http://www.pagebypagebooks.com/Horatio_Alger/Ragged_Dick/index.html

Riis, Jacob A. How the Other Half Lives. 1890. Retrieved online: http://www.bartleby.com/208/


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