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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Topic: MemoryTopic: ProgressTopic: PeopleTopic: PowerTopic: Empire
Topic: People: Assimilation and the Crucible of the City
Toolbox Overview: The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Resource Menu: People
Text 1. The American Metropolis
Text 2. Coney Island
Text 3. Horatio Alger, Jr., Ragged Dick
» Reading Guide
•  Link

Text 4. Lewis W. Hine photographs
Text 5. Jacob Riis, How the Other Lives
Text 6. Anzia Yezierska, Russians
Text 7. Two Wives
Text 8. Lee Chew, The Biography of a Chinaman
Text 9. Exclusion
Text 10. Zitkala-Sa, Native Americans

RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
Horatio Alger, Jr.
Horatio Alger, Jr.
Horatio Alger, Jr., Ragged Dick, Or, Street Life in New York, novel, 1867, excerpts

At the center of Bellows's New York is a wagon that could be carrying almost anything. Its cargo does not matter, but its color does. Shining gold in the sunlight, it is the symbolic heart of the painting. Gold is what drew the crowds to the city and kept them in motion. But how does one navigate those bustling streets to get that gold? Horatio Alger, Jr., offered an answer. Alger (1832-1889) was born in Chelsea (now Revere), Massachusetts. His father was a Unitarian minister who wanted him to become a clergyman. He instead wanted to become a poet and, to that end, studied under Henry Wadsworth Longfellow at Harvard. Upon graduating he wrote for a local newspaper and taught school. Eventually, he did turn to the ministry, taking a position in Cape Cod, but in 1866 he gave it up to follow a writing career in New York. There he became fascinated with the world of bootblacks and newsboys, and it was out of their experience and his own austere values that he created his novels, of which Ragged Dick was the first. Essentially an assimilation story, it, like all of his novels, describes the progress of a young boy, who, through hard work, persistence, and luck, escapes the city streets. He may not become wealthy, but he does achieve respectability, the goal of all the fictional strivers in this section of the toolbox. In the excerpted chapters Dick befriends fellow bootblack Johnny Nolan and guides Frank, a country boy, through the city. 7 pages.

Discussion questions
  1. What image of the city does Alger present?
  2. What is the relationship between Dick and Johnny? between Dick and Frank? between Dick and Mr. Whitney?
  3. Why does Alger focus the reader's attention on clothes?
  4. What ethnic hierarchy does Alger establish?
  5. How does Alger portray business and business people? Compare his portrayal with that offered in the texts of the POWER section of the toolbox.
  6. How does Alger define respectability?

» Link

Topic Framing Questions
  •  How was the American cultural mainstream defined at this time?
  •  What messages and strategies of socialization did the government and other culture brokers extend to immigrants, African Americans, and Native Americans during this period?
  •  What benefits and costs for these groups were associated with a strategy of assimilation?
  •  How did the city function as a site of assimilation?

Toolbox: The Gilded and the Gritty: America, 1870-1912
Memory | Progress | People | Power | Empire

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Revised: May 2005