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Ragged Dick A modern fairytale based on the style of the classic fairytales The implausibility of the events and the manner in which they unfold to a successful conclusion suggests that Ragged Dick by Horatio Alger Jr. does have the qualities of a fairytale. In fact, it appears that the author has modeled his writing style on the conventional fairytales, except that there are no supernatural characters, such as goblins and fairies involved in this story. It is, thus, a modern fairytale that has captured the essence of conventional fairytales minus the presence of legendary and mythical characters. As in a fairytale, the story espouses certain virtues.
The necessity of right conduct and its rewards are juxtaposed against improper conduct and its pitfalls. As in a fairytale, the characterization of the protagonists is in black and white and there is a clear demarcation between right and wrong. The hero of the story is Dick Hunter, also known as Ragged Dick. He is a fourteen-year-old shoeshine boy. The most enduring fairytale-like quality of this story is its rags to riches theme. Dick moves up from the fringes of society to a position of respectability based on his hard work and character.
Generations of Americans, particularly the immigrants have taken the novel to heart and look to emulate the dream-like success of Dick Hunter. The plot of the story is reminiscent of the classic fairytales. Dick is poor but does not lie or cheat. The one time he tells a lie is when he is unable to sell his newspapers and tries to sell them off by proclaiming the news of the assassination of Queen Elizabeth of England.
However, when he sees an Englishman break down upon hearing the news, he is filled with remorse and resolves not to take recourse to falsehood anymore. As in every fairytale, Dick goes through several adventures and near mishaps but comes off the better for them. When he is accused of possessing counterfeit currency, his upright bearing and open demeanor helps him to prove his innocence. When Dick offers to show the sights of New York to Frank; Mr. Whitney, who is Franks uncle, suggests that Dick first get a change of clothes. Dick gets to take a bath and change into some clean clothes that Frank had discarded.
As the reader is taken through this portion of the story, he cannot help but draw a comparison with Cinderella who too was changed into a beautiful looking girl by the fairy godmother. In fact, Dick too refers to Cinderella after he sees himself in the mirror. The story of Dick Hunter differs from conventional fairytales in terms of the pursuit of the hero. In a conventional fairytale, it was usually the case of winning the hand of a princess and slaying an ogre. The story of Dick Hunter is on similar lines, except that instead of a princess, Dick Hunter woos success and the ogres he has to confront include a hostile world and distrustful people. The story of Dick Hunter has come to be regarded as a capitalist fairytale, which encourages people to believe in the American dream.
Dick succeeds not just because he managed to get some lucky breaks but also because he was prepared to work hard and make his opportunities count. The author illustrates this point by giving the example of Johnny Nolan. Johnny Nolan is in the same trade as Dick but is portrayed as being lazy and a shirker. By drawing a clear distinction between the characters of Johnny and Dick, the author gives us the message that even if opportunity were to knock at the doors of someone like Johnny; it is unlikely that he would answer the call. The author has imbued the character of Dick Hunter with a chivalrousness and courage that one comes across in the noble princes in the fairytales of yore. Even after Travis tries to steal his money, Dick tries to help Travis by asking for his pardon.
He offers financial assistance to Tom Wilkins by giving him money to pay his rent and to care for his sick mother. He also helps Fosdick, who because of his natural timidity was never quite able to mix-up with the gang of shoeshine boys. Dick is a gallant lad and offers to share his accommodation with Fosdick. Similar to the swashbuckling princes of yore, who would make the best of any situation that they would get into, Dick strikes a bargain with Fosdick.
Fosdick can read and write and he is to help Dick learn the same in return for accommodation at Dicks place. The change in Dicks fortunes through the course of the story also has a fairytale like quality. It happens too swiftly, at regular intervals; it manages to keep the reader interested, and his faith in following the path of right action is reaffirmed when he sees the good that it brings to Dick. Dick nurses an ambition to attain respectability but is not prepared to lie or steal for it. Through various passages in the story, we see how Dick is rewarded for his truthfulness. Mr.
Whitney provides him with a change of clothes and Mr. Greyson offers to teach him at Sunday school. Both these happenings are major strokes of luck and are not something that someone would hope to come across in the normal course of events. This is further proof that the author did intend to base his story on the lines of the classical fairytales. Bibliography Alger, Horatio.
Ragged Dick 05 Jun. 2005 < web >
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