If I were to teach Ragged Dick (or any of the other Horatio Alger stories) in a high school setting, what types of objectives and questions would I have? Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
1. What kind of person is Dick? What causes him to behave as he does? List five characteristics.Would you want to “be like Dick?” Would you want to have Dick as a friend?
is Dick’s “world” like? Who
are his friends? Who is his
family? Who are his enemies?
3. What is “right” and what is “wrong” to Dick? Cite the page numbers where Dick demonstrates his personal code of values.How does he decide what is right and wrong?
4.Does Dick ever experience a moral dilemma? Does he ever demonstrate moral courage? Moral cowardice? Does he use reason when he resolves moral dilemmas?
5. Compare and contrast Dick with Benjamin Franklin, Frederick Douglass, Melville’s Bartleby, Huck Finn, Jay Gatsby, and other “anti-heroes” of American culture. How does Dick compare with today’s street children as they appear in film/TV and in the newspapers?
6. Consider what values are
being promoted in the novel. Are these the same "American" values
taught by Emerson and identified by de Crevecoeur? Are these values
that apply only to readers in 1868? Or can modern readers also learn
societal values from the Horatio Alger books?
7. Why was Alger's work so
popular in 1868? What has cause its decline in popularity among young
8. Who "profits" from Alger's
9. How would you characterize
Dick's discourse? What else delineates Dick's identity?
10. Where are the women in
Ragged Dick? What possible assumptions can be drawn from the
absence of women in Horatio Alger's works?
11. Is Ragged Dick an
example of high art? Or is it a cultural artifact?
12. Before you began reading
Ragged Dick, what were your preconceptions of the Horatio Alger
aarchetype? Were those perceptions confirmed in the novel, or were
they exposed as misconceptions?
In your objectives consider different perspectives: textual, social, cultural, and topical. For example, you may want to define how the separate parts of a text are related to its overall form and, ultimately, to its overall meaning. I do think that it is important that the readers do not stray too far from the text. But, it is always appropriate to extend beyond the text and look at the readers’ social relationships with the novel. This is when you can talk about social/cultural values and attitudes. If you adopt a topical perspective, you may look at the text historically, anthropologically, scientifically, or legally.