Ragged Dick: Or, Street Life in New York with the Boot Blacks

by

Horatio Alger

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Ragged Dick: Or, Street Life in New York with the Boot Blacks: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Prior to their first lesson, that very night, Fosdick attempts to gauge Dick’s existing knowledge. He learns that Dick has had a grand total of two days of schooling in his lifetime, during which he naturally didn’t learn to read. However, the time that Dick spent as a newsboy taught him to read a small amount, and, Fosdick discovers, Dick at least knows the alphabet.
Dick learning the alphabet or even rudimentary reading in two days seems an unlikely thing, no matter how quick a learner he might be. Nevertheless, this moment underscores the poverty of Dick’s upbringing and establishes how far he must climb in his studies.
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Fosdick finds an appropriately simple newspaper article on which Dick can begin. Dick struggles at first, but the narrator remarks that he’s a quick study, and that both boys undertake their work as student and teacher with good humor.
Newspapers would prove an excellent learning tool for the boys, as they’re cheap and easily discarded—unlike books, which are expensive and meant to be kept.
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Eventually the boys grow tired and end the lesson in order to get ready for bed. Dick is surprised when his friend kneels at the bedside to pray before getting into bed. Fosdick explains the prayer to him, and offers to teach him how to pray, a proposal that Dick quickly accepts.
Dick knows about the Bible and believes it to be a source of good, but he’s otherwise essentially godless. Alger largely hid this fact until his character was established enough for the audience to accept it. Dick’s willingness to join his friend in prayer emphasizes his morality in spite of his lack of religious education.
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The next morning, Dick tells his landlord that Fosdick will be living there as well. She agrees, while adding twenty-five cents to the weekly charge. Dick says that he will pay this on Fosdick’s behalf.
Though the two boys are sharing a bed, there’s not a hint of homosexual subtext to be found here; again, Alger’s story is purely wholesome. Dick’s generosity continues to be on display.
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Recognizing that Fosdick isn’t very good at soliciting customers, Dick begins to work in tandem with the young boy. Dick solicits multiple customers, always sending one to Fosdick for shoe-shining. In this way, both boys are able to earn more, and Dick is able to add substantially to his savings account, while Fosdick is able to start an account of his own.
It’s hard to place Fosdick in Alger’s system of the lazy versus the industrious. Fosdick is industrious in his way, but he’s also shy, and so his industry doesn’t work out for him. Without Dick, he would never be able to break out of poverty. That Dick helps Fosdick suggests his capacity for the world of business.
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At week’s end, Dick contemplates going to Mr. Greyson’s Sunday School. He’s almost talked himself out of it when Fosdick intervenes, offering to go along. Soothed by the idea of not having to go alone, Dick quickly agrees, and the two boys go to the church together.
Dick’s reticence isn’t one born of a desire to shirk religious education. The boy simply feels as though he’ll be out of place in church—recognized as a homeless bootblack masquerading as a respectable boy.
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