Alger’s Novel Ragged Dick

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Updated: Apr 07, 2022
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Horatio Alger, a 19th century American author, is known and credited for his “rags to rich” stories, with a clear message, work hard and you will succeed (Kanfer). The most common theme that is found in most of Alger’s fiction is that the main character always, without fail, “makes it” (Kanfer). This indication points out that Alger’s perception of the American Dream is accessible if one attempts to do so. While that definition of the American Dream does hold its relevance, it is not applicable to all.

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In Alger’s novel, Ragged Dick, the protagonist, Dick Hunter, works his way up from an impoverished home to the comfort of middle-class wealth through hard work and determination.

Although Dick has successfully worked his way up, the problem with this is that Dick is portrayed as a white, able-bodied man, who supposedly represents every average American citizen. While Alger believes that the American Dream is applicable to anyone, novels like Invisible Man have challenged Alger’s applicable formula for success. In Invisible Man, it illustrates the determination to achieve the American Dream from a young African American man, but racial limitation has caused the protagonist to question his own identity. He goes out on a quest to pursue his own identity and his own interests in a world defined by white power and realizes that the migration to New York City will give him a better path. Being in New York City as an African American turns out to be no different from his old home and realizes that an individual will always be judged because of their race.

After experiencing a multitude of repetivitive discrimination and seeing the complexity of black nationalism, the protagonist retreats back from society and continues to contemplate on his own identity. He realizes that “not only could you travel upward toward success but you could travel downward as well; up and down, in retreat and well as in advance” (Ellison 385). During his downfall, the protagonist understands that as a black man, he is invisible to everyone. While Alger remains in a positive note that success will be the outcome of hard work, Invisible Man takes a turn of that meaning and illustrates the true reality of attempting to achieve the American Dream. The protagonist continuously seeks out to find the benefits of the American Dream that he ends up discovering the many empty promises simply meant to keep Americans striving for that Dream.

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Alger's Novel Ragged Dick. (2022, Apr 07). Retrieved from