Week 2 Readings and assignments
1. Read Alger’s Ragged Dick: Or, Street Life in New York with the Boot Blacks.
This is an easy read and it will provide you with a look at street life during the Gilded Age in the the late nineteen hundreds. It will also show us what values Horatio Alger and others of the time period had that made this a go-go economic period that saw the rise of the millionaires Vanderbilt, Carnegie, and JP Morgan. What was this time period’s American Dream? Who could achieve it? What would it take to get there?
To give images to the time and place Alger was writing about, please look at the powerpoint I have posted. Jacob Riis, himself an immigrant to NYC, invented flash photography. His photos of Ragged Dick’s environment in New York City’s Five Points reveal that the book is based on fact. There were terrible conditions for the poor, and there were generations of children literally homeless due to death, alcoholism, and poverty. Riis’s photos and writings appalled folks in NYC who eventually, slowly, created social services for the poor in the city.
2. Refer back to David Kamp’s article from last week that we read. We saw how America changed after World War II. Consider how expectations for education, personal living circumstances, and youth changed after this terrible world war. Are there parallels in Kamp’s history of the American dream in the post war world with Ragged Dick and the way he advances in the world? What was the dream now supposed to look like, according to Kamp? How different is it from Dick’s desires and goals?
3. Go to the Discussion Board and find questions for this week’s discussions on “Life Among the Boot Blacks” in New York City’s Five Points of the late 1800s.
Discussion Board Assignment:
What is the lesson of Alger’s Ragged Dick? What values does he promote? What kind of person is this young man? What accounts for Dick’s ultimate success, exactly? If this book was offered as a sort of how to for young boys, what is the ultimate message? Do you think Alger’s lesson is still relevant today? Perhaps compare Alger’s Ragged Dick and the values he espouses with those of Emerson or those of our culture.
Refer back to David Kamp’s article from last week that we read. We saw how America changed after World War II. Consider how expectations for education, personal living circumstances, and youth changed after this terrible world war. Are there parallels in Kamp’s history of the American dream in the post war world with Ragged Dick and the way he advances in the world? What was the dream now supposed to look like, according to Kamp? How different is it from Dick’s desires and goals? In other words, did World War II destroy the kind of humble dream Dick pursued?
How important is class and rising in class to our idea of the American dream? Do we see Ragged Dick rise in class in this book? What determines class in America? If you lived in England, your class would be readily evident by your accent and the schools that you attended. Are there rigid classes in America? How do you know? What determines class in this country? What evidence do you have for your beliefs?
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