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 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Frank asks Dick about his early childhood. He learns that the boy has always lived in New York and has been on the streets since he was seven years old. Both of his parents died when he was very young, and the woman with whom they left him died shortly thereafter. That woman’s husband deserted Dick, leaving him to scrounge a living on his own.
Here, as with Johnny Nolan, Alger capitulates that it’s not Dick’s fault he’s homeless. Those initial circumstances were beyond his control. However, it’s clear that he has only himself to blame for his continued homelessness. 
Themes
The Power of Thrift Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Dick made his living in a variety of ways before becoming a boot-black. He was a newsboy, until he tried to sell more papers by falsely announcing the death of Queen Victoria—something for which he later felt quite terrible. For a while, he also tried to sell matches, but found the business unprofitable. Throughout it all, he tells Frank, he never stole, although it would often have been easy and profitable for him to do so.
The number of times that Dick says he doesn’t steal—or the narrator informs the audience that Dick doesn’t steal—is impressive. Certainly, it speaks to Dick’s sense of doing the right thing. But it also seems to speak to a societal prejudice against the homeless: namely, the belief that because one is homeless, one must be a criminal.
Themes
The Power of Thrift Theme Icon
The Value of Education Theme Icon
American Democracy vs. The British Monarchy Theme Icon
Dick thanks his companion and says that he wishes more people were like Frank and Mr. Whitney. Frank again assures Dick that the shoeshine boy’s fortune might one day change, adding that Mr. Whitney himself was not always rich. He was once a poor school teacher but worked himself up through the world of business. Like Dick, however, Mr. Whitney earned his success by adhering to strict moral code. 
This is the first of two stories presented to Dick regarding Mr. Whitney’s upbringing. It is the far more plausible of the two in that it relies less on luck and more on hard work. For Whitney, as with Dick, fortune favored him because of his industriousness. In the second story, this is far less true.
Themes
The Power of Thrift Theme Icon
Fortune Favors the Industrious Theme Icon
The Value of Education Theme Icon
Frank questions Dick about his schooling and suggests that the boy attend a night school to enhance his education. Dick agrees that this would be a good idea. Frank tells his friend that a better life is possible, if Dick will attend to his education and always work hard and with integrity.
When Dick later meets the highly educated Fosdick, it becomes clear why education alone isn’t enough to ensure success in the world. Without Dick’s drive to work, the education will be useless.
Themes
The Power of Thrift Theme Icon
Fortune Favors the Industrious Theme Icon
The Value of Education Theme Icon
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