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


Horatio Alger

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

Themes and Colors
The Power of Thrift Theme Icon
Fortune Favors the Industrious Theme Icon
Clothes Make the Man Theme Icon
The Value of Education Theme Icon
American Democracy vs. The British Monarchy Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Ragged Dick: Or, Street Life in New York with the Boot Blacks, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The Power of Thrift

Richard “Ragged Dick” Hunter is a young, homeless boy who makes a living by shining the shoes of businessmen. While it might seem that such a life would be dismal—especially in a cold, northern city like New York—Dick manages to get by pretty well. He frequents the theater, buys expensive cigars, and often treats himself and his friends to lavish meals. Horatio Alger, Ragged Dick’s author, sees such spending as inappropriate and highlights it…

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Fortune Favors the Industrious

In the second half of the nineteenth century, as today, it was not likely that someone born into abject poverty or homelessness could work himself into middle-class respectability. Even those with a marketable skill, like shoe-shining, would find their meager wages quickly eaten up by the basic costs of survival. Unable to save money, they would be equally unable to acquire the education, wardrobe, or steady place of residence needed to obtain more profitable employment…

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Clothes Make the Man

Horatio Alger didn’t coin the adage, “dress for the job you want, not the one you have,” but he certainly believed in it. Clothes are incredibly important in Ragged Dick, a story whose titular fourteen-year-old orphan shines shoes on the streets of New York. In the book, those who wear nice clothes and take care of their appearance, are successful, where those with little care for their apparel, or whose clothing is ill-fitted or…

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The Value of Education

Many factors go into Ragged Dick’s eventual rise from living on the streets of New York and shining shoes to the middle-class respectability he enjoys by story’s end: his wardrobe, the lucky opportunities he encounters, the social networking he enjoys at church. Yet, nothing is as important as the work Dick puts into educating himself. Alger repeatedly has his successful characters espouse the value of being able to read and write, and he makes…

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American Democracy vs. The British Monarchy

Queen Victoria came to the British throne in 1837 and reigned until her death in 1901. Her remarkably long service was well established by the time of Ragged Dick’s writing in the late 1860s, and Dick references the Queen nearly a dozen times, and always in tandem with some other reference to obscene wealth. Dick, a homeless boy shining shoes on the streets, is himself surrounded by the incredible wealth of New York City…

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