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Ragged Dick (Norton Critical Editions) Paperback – 14 Dec 2007
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About the Author
Hildegard Hoeller is Professor of English at the College of Staten Island, City University of New York. She is the author of Edith Wharton's Dialogue with Realism and Sentimental Fiction and co-author, with Rebecca Brittenheim, of Key Words for Academic Writers. Her essays on nineteenth and early-twentieth century American literature have appeared in many journals, among them American Literature, Studies in American Fiction, and American Literary Realism.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Through encounters with various dignified and affluent gentlemen--mostly his customers--Dick receives unexpected kindness and valuable advice on how to improve his lowly station in life. Soon it becomes his goal to work hard, save up and get an education somehow--in order to make himself "respectable" some day. Christian ethics are expressed by several characters who exhort him to practice a moral and humane lifestyle.
As Dick has many adventures which point out the perils of city street life, this book may also have served as a cautionary tale for boys who were considering running away--assuming they could read. Alger implies that success can be achieve by dint of hard work, personal dedication, honesty and clean living (no gambling, music halls, drinking, smoking, stealing or lying.) Eager male readers might infer that they too could be the authors of the or own, usually-elusive Good Luck!
A superficial view of this book would say that it’s a pretty typical ‘rags to riches story’. That’s a fair assessment but there’s a lot more to it. Firstly, because a story is simple doesn’t make it bad. I feel that many novels challenge themselves to be as complex as possible without adding a massive amount to the quality of the story. The author clearly recognises this because there is never any ambiguity. The tale moves at a constant clip and you get a clear mental picture of life in NYC at this time (though I assume for many it was a lot worse than portrayed in this book). A lack of grit surrounding the nature of society at the time comes I suspect from the constant optimism of the protagonist.
As mentioned, this book has quite a capitalist story to it. It talks repeatedly about the benefits of self-improvement, saving and moral decency. I think in particular that lessons about spending less than you earn are ones that are forgotten easily – you will be well reminded by the time you finish. You could argue that the story could be a pointer toward political lines that would be comparable to what we see today. Perhaps, but I don’t think this is the key message of the book. I don’t think it impossible though that this book could readily be pointed to as a means of illustrating the benefits of being a shrewd entrepreneur.
It’s unlikely to take you long to get through this book – especially if like me you are really taken in by the story. I don’t read a tremendous amount of fiction but I will have fond memories of this story. It also has put several financial fundamentals back into the front of my mind. This alone should make the book very cheap relative to the payoff.
I think these stories are still good for teenagers. This was a fun read and recalled my own thinking as I went from a family on state welfare to a college graduate and a reasonably successful life.
Of course the story is very dated; but the good stuff is still there.