Or Street Life in New York with the Boot-Blacks
by Horatio Alger
Ragged Dick is a children's novel by Horatio Alger, Jr. about a poor bootblack and his rise to middle-class comfort and respectability through good moral behavior, clean living, and determination. Ragged Dick was serialized in 1867 and published as a novel in 1868. The book was hugely popular for many years, but has declined in esteem with one modern critic calling it "a puerile fantasy."
Horatio Alger, Jr. formed an association with the Newsboys' Lodging House, a home for impoverished children in New York City, after resigning from the ministry in 1864. Alger's empathy for the children he met, and the moral values of his youth, produced not only Ragged Dick but a collection of similar rags to riches juvenile novels in the last decades of the 19th century.
The novel is set principally on the streets of New York City and follows the picaresque adventures of a cheerful teenage boot-black called Ragged Dick. Dick shows his street smarts by foiling conmen and fending off bullies. One day, the cocky young fellow is engaged by a gentleman to guide his teenage nephew Frank on a sightseeing tour of New York. Dick is given a new suit of clothes and the boys have a whale of a time. Frank thinks highly of Dick and urges him to go to school. Dick takes his friend's words to heart. He rents a room and shares it with a younger boy who gives him lessons in reading, writing, and mathematics. He takes his first steps to middle class respectability by opening a bank account. In the final chapters of the book, Dick boards the Brooklyn ferry and saves a boy who tumbles into the river. The child's father is a wealthy industrialist who shows his appreciation by giving Dick a well-paying job as a clerk in his office. Dick begins using his real name "Richard Hunter", and, when he returns to his room, discovers a thief has stolen his ragged old clothes. With this symbolic event, Richard is cut off forever from his former vagabond life.
About the Author:
Horatio Alger, Jr. (January 13, 1832 – July 18, 1899) was a prolific 19th-century American author whose principal output was formulaic juvenile novels that followed the adventures of bootblacks, newsboys, peddlers, buskers, and other impoverished children in their rise from humble backgrounds to lives of respectable middle-class security and comfort. His novels were hugely popular in their day.