Wednesday, 23 November 2011

'The Horatio Alger Myth'

This American University in Pennsylvania uses the phrase, 'the Horatio Alger myth' in relation to the frequent narrative of 'rags to riches' in musicals during the 1930's. On the one hand, this is an accurate interpretation of the Alger myth because in Ragged Dick, the character progresses upwards from a lower class 'street arab' to a respectable middle-class citizen. This was made possible through Dick gaining employment as a clerk, allowing him to earn ten dollars a week. Therefore, this was a drastic increase in economic terms for Dick, as 'Ten dollars a week was to him a fortune,' (Chapter 27) and as a result, Alger demonstrates that the myth involves an acquisition of 'riches.'
On the other hand, this is an inaccurate diagnosis of 'the Horatio Alger myth,' because Dick does not rise from 'rags to riches.' He simply gains employment as a clerk; 'riches' is therefore an inappropriate term to use for a minor profession and additionally, this profession was in reality, difficult to elevate in, therefore his new occupation is merely a minor step towards progress. Furthermore, it may be an exaggeration to suggest that Dick transforms from poverty into a middle-class citizen, seeing as Dick is only a child and fortune usually benefits those of the older generation stereotypically, because experience is rewarded with wealth.
'The Horatio Alger myth' seems to receive a more justifiable description on this website, which utilises the myth to explain the westward migration movement. It states that '"pluck, luck, and moral rectitude would advance one's station in life."' This implies that the myth is not simply materialistic - as the 'rags to riches' concept suggests, because there is no mention of wealth or status. Horatio Alger wished to encourage children to act morally through aspiring to the character Dick. Therefore, the Alger myth is indeed the progression of an individual, but the importance is placed on the means of the progression, rather than the end result.
However, the reference to 'moral rectitude' can be questioned in defining 'the Horatio Alger myth,' because the character Dick is ambiguous. He is predominantly portrayed as a moral individual through his many selfless actions, for example in chapter 20 he demonstrates his generosity by lending money to his friend Tom Wilkins. However, Dick's morality can be questioned, for instance when he fights Micky Maguire in chapter 18 because he is willing to use violence. Consequently, it could be argued that Horatio Alger intended to create an ordinary character that young boys could relate to, rather than a character that obtains a number of seemingly perfect characteristics. 'The Horatio Alger myth,' can as a result, be described as the progression of an ordinary individual, making the myth applicable to the majority of American society.
In conclusion, 'the Horatio Alger myth' is more complex than the simplification of 'rags to riches,' which implies that the process of individual achievement is straightforward, when in reality, an individual must obtain certain characteristics and must additionally struggle against the perils of city life. If the idea of 'rags to riches' must be appropriated, it must be emphasised that an individual will gradually progress from one class to another as Dick did. The process is not automatic and this is proven in the bombardment of obstacles that Dick must overcome in order to progress.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.