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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.64, No.2, 187 ~ 202, 2018
A Street-Child’s Board Game: the Endless Quest for Respectability in Ragged Dick
Soyoun Kim
Horatio Alger’s Ragged Dick (1868) betrays the economic and social system of nineteenth-century America through a self-reformative bootblack’s quest for respectability. Being considered a space of constant danger, nineteenth-century New York City serves as a game board, and both visitors and residents of the city are supposed to avoid dangers while moving across its space. Dick Hunter, the juvenile protagonist of the novel, illustrates a street-child who starts his game of life from the backline of the game board. Continuing his quest for respectability, not only must he abandon the bad habits that he acquired as a street-child, but he also must avoid thieves and swindlers just like a tourist or like a player of nineteenth-century American board games. As Dick’s social rise goes parallel with his movement in the city space, his entrance to a bank brings him the access to other respectable places, and a series of entrance turns him into a legitimate subject in the official system of the American society. While he continues his game of life successfully with the help of gentlemen patrons, in reality it is almost impossible for a disadvantaged player to escape the backline of the society. Thus, Dick’s success story presents Alger’s fantasy about the ideal economic system in which materials and persons are endlessly circulated.
Key Words
Ragged Dick, Horatio Alger, street-child, board game, nineteenth-century guidebooks to city
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