Monday, 30 November 2015

'In Poverty Gap, West 28 Street: an English coal-heaver's home.'

During the Nineteenth Century, more and more people began crowding into America’s cities, including thousands of newly arrived immigrants seeking a better life than the one they had left behind.’ Published in 1890, Jacob Riis’ ‘How the Other Half Lives’, is a collection of photos which document the living conditions of the immigrants in the Lower East Side of New York City during the 1880s. Riis helped to ‘expose the horrible conditions of the slums in which the lower classes of New York City lived.’ By doing this he was able to show other Americans that ‘the tenement slum was incompatible with good American citizenship.’[1]  

This picture is one of many, which capture the many immigrant’s poor living conditions. The image is called, ‘In Poverty Gap, West 28 Street: an English coal-heaver’s home’. The photograph consists of a ‘pleasant-faced’ mother, ‘a slow-going, honest English coal-heaver’ father and their children, ‘two bright and pretty girls’.[2] The image reveals that immigrants lived in squalor, the tenements in which they resided were not well kept and provided little comfort, also the lack of space meant that many families were crowded. These poor living conditions were only subjected to the immigrants as they were seen as inferior to the other Americans. They did not get a lot but they made do with what they had, because they wanted a better quality of life and the only way they could do this was by going to America, where they were promised they would achieve this greater quality of living. The image is a clear indication that the immigrants were not living the American lifestyle they wished they could. The lack of help provided for the immigrants shows that they had to manage on their own and provide and feed their kids. It was not the ideal living circumstances and through images such as this, Riis uncovers the horrendous conditions which well-off people refused to see.

[1] Roy Lubove, The Progressive and the Slums: Tenement House Reform in New York City, 1890-1917 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1963) p. 124
[2] Jacob A. Riss, How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York (New York: Dover, 1971) p. 134

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Blog Task for Meeting in Week 11 (1 December) *Updated*

Choose and post any image from Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives (1890) and comment on what the image reveals about immigrant New York and attitudes towards the new Americans pictured.

Useful/Interesting Link

'More than half the nation's governors say Syrian refugees not welcome', CNN, (2015)

'Paris Attacks Intensify Debate Over How Many Syrian Refugees to Allow Into the U.S.', New York Times (2015)   

 'Why Your Family Name Was Not Changed at Ellis Island (and One That Was)', New York Public Library,(2013)  

'New Life in U.S. No Longer Means New Name', New York Times, (2010) 

'Pioneering Social Reformer Jacob Riis Revealed "How The Other Half Lives" in America', Smithsonian Magazine, (2014)  

'Jacob A. Riis Neighbourhood Settlement: "A place to grow"'

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Ragged Dick Presentation Notes

- I'm going to discuss
--- honest
--- being streetwise
--- and particularly how these relate to the American Dream

Theme Of Honesty
- Key theme
- The Horatio Alger Myth
- value of:
--- honesty
--- industriousness
--- clean living
- "I never stole... It's mean and I wouldn't do it"
- 2 dollar bill - receives more money for being honest
- Man gets fired for being dishonest
- "He looks honest" - Mr Whitney
- Causes Mr Whitney to give him the advice
- Honesty of giving Mr Greyson his change back
- Honest character makes adults warm to him/help him
- 'Honest' living leads to his success

Being Streetwise
- Streetwise vs Street 'aware'
- knows the city - gets across Broadway
- Knows how to handle the people
- aware of the scams:
--- $2 bill scam
--- the found pocket book
--- stolen $50
- He knows how to spot and avoid these traps
- specific example of the pocket book
- wasn't fooled or conned
- could be argued he was honest and noble
- prevents anyone else from being conned

- shows it's important to be streetwise
- stop you from being conned
- however Horatio Algar's main focus is the importance of honesty
- this is the path to success

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Friendship and Rivalry in Ragged Dick

Rivalry - fact of life, affects everyone

Johnny Nolan
Mickey and Limpy Jim
Jim Travis

How Dick deals with these 

Friendship - importance of mutual benefits, those who befriend Dick are richer for the experience

Henry Fosdick
Mr Whitney 
My Greyson

Why isn't Dick resentful unlike some of his peers?

Ragged Dick: Youth vs Experience

‘Ragged Dick; or, Street Life in New York with the Boot Blacks’ is the first instalment in a series of children’s novels written by Horatio Alger Jr. and published in full length in the year 1868. It is a typical ‘rags to riches’ novel that focuses on the life of Richard Hunter and his rise from the streets in New York. 

In the first line of ‘Ragged Dick’, “Wake up there, youngster”, it is established that the main character of the novel is a youth. Ragged Dick is a fourteen-year-old boy living on the streets at the beginning of the novel. That by no means makes him any less experienced in the world. If anything, spending his youth on the streets has made him more experienced than many adults. The never knowing where you will sleep that night or if you will have made enough money to eat are just two things that the majority of adults in this book will not have experienced in their lifetimes, but our protagonist has. In my opinion these hardships have made Ragged Dick more experienced in life despite his youth.

Experience does not necessarily mean older as youth doesn’t always mean na├»ve. There are many instances throughout Ragged Dick where we learn that despite his young age the protagonist is very knowledgeable in the world. Not necessarily intellectually, which he soon becomes as we see in the book, but in the way things work. He shows his knowledge in the way he overcomes day to day situations. How he outsmarts a con man. How he handles an aggressive fellow youth. How he turns his meagre earnings into savings with enough put aside to live on. Many of these things an adult would struggle to accomplish unlike Dick and his friend Fosdick who take it in stride.

There are a couple characters who fit the stereotypical characteristics some think go hand in hand with being a youth. There’s Johnny Nolan who is lazy and unambitious. There’s Micky Maguire who is reckless and a troublemaker. Both of these boys are complete opposites to Ragged Dick and Henry Fosdick and yet in their own ways encompass both youth and experience. Johnny Nolan has experienced first-hand the terror of alcoholism and domestic abuse while Micky Maguire’s fought his way to become a gang leader and spent time in jail. Neither of those things could be considered anything less than a life experience.

The majority of youth in the world today have a much more sheltered upbringing than the characters in ‘Ragged Dick’ as they are rarely left to fend for themselves on the street which is fortunate. The circumstances back then forced the youth to mature quickly so in consequence they had their childhood stolen from them. Because of this I feel youth and experience in this novel has merged into one entity.

First question: Do you agree that Alger merged the lines between youth and experience?

The adult characters in ‘Ragged Dick’ are mostly kept to the background throughout the novel bar a select few. Mr Greyson is the first adult we are introduced to and his banter with Ragged Dick makes his character enjoyable. His taking a chance on Ragged Dick returning his change shows that not all adults in this time period were completely untrusting of street youths and saw potential in them. This is confirmed in the discussion held between Ragged Dick and Mr Greyson later in chapter 15 where Mr Greyson tells Dick “I shall hope good things for your future.”. Another adult character that reaches out to Dick in the hope to help him better himself is Mr Whitney who goes so far as to invest in him by giving him five dollars. These characters see Dick’s potential to be great despite his young age and with their encouraging words Dick is inspired to make a better life for himself.  

Overall I find that youth and experience in ‘Ragged Dick’ is one and the same so can’t be placed into two different categories. The youths’ experiences in life can’t be belittled to what the adults have gone through and therefore are one and the same. ‘Ragged Dick’ is a shining example of how our experiences in youth build us into what we become when we are adults. A poor upbringing can make us charitable. Cruelty from others can make us into caring individuals who take into account the feelings of whoever we meet. 

Question two: Would you say that experiences in youth help to develop our future character?

Ragged Dick's harmonious use of 'Obedience vs Inventiveness'.

Ragged Dick, which was released as a full length novel in May 1968, is a coming of age/rags to riches story by Horatio Alger Jr. It follows a poor ‘bootblack’ (shoeshiners) rise to middle class society in 19th Century New York City. The theme within Ragged Dick that I have been exploring is Obedience vs Inventiveness. 

Obedience is the compliance with an order, request, or law or submission to another’s authority. This is exhibited by the character Ragged Dick throughout the novel though his refusal to steal even when he is given multiple opportunities to do so. An example of this is in Chapter One where Mr Greyson trusts Dick to bring his change for his services Greyson’s office. Dick could have taken the change and pocketed it, however he is assumed to have stuck with his morals and delivered the change. 

Dick’s refusal to steal is further explored during a conversation with Frank, in Chapter 8, whom asks Dick if he was ever tempted to steal. Dick explains how he has been tempted to steal before, telling the story of how he couldn't trade matches with a baker, but when the baker left the room, Dick had the opportunity to steal a piece of bread. However, he didn't and once the baker retuned, Dick was then hired for an payed errand. This reinforces the idea that through obeying social norms and values an individual can gain from it even if they are in dire circumstances. This would help the United States promote law abiding to its young populace.

Dick however isn't particularly obedient. In chapter 3, he refuses to leave the shop even though the clerk demands he ‘be off, or I’ll have you arrested.” This confrontational behaviour is a strong characteristic of Dick. In chapter 9, Dick and Frank ride on the Third Avenue horsecar, during  which they have a confrontation with a lady who believes that Frank, or possibly Dick has stolen her purse. Frank is quick to attempt to resolve the situation, through saying “I’ll turn my pockets inside out if you want me to.” On the other hand, Dick sees the entire exchange as a joke, with statements such as “You’d think I was the biggest villain you ever saw.” Whilst still remaining willing to undergo a search to prove his innocence, the entire exchange is comical to Dick and this would potentially land him in further trouble. 

Dick knows what his social standing is, but also how to read situations and demand whats best for himself. Even as a 14 yr old boy, he knows where he stands, not letting others walk all over him. 
He does this by not listening or explicitly trusting his elders instead trusting himself. This is used by Alger to create a strong rebellious character that helps youths engage with the story. 

Discuss: Why would obedience be a problem for Dick (and others like him) in 19th century New York?

Inventiveness is having the ability to create or design new things or to think originally. Dick’s inventiveness can be seen within the chapter 8 again, as Dick describes how he sold newspapers to Frank. “Well, they didn't always put news enough in their papers, and people wouldn't buy ‘em as fast as I wanted ‘em to. So one mornin’ I was stuck on a  lot of Heralds, and I thought I would make a sensation. So I called out ‘GREAT NEWS! QUEEN VICTORIA ASSASSINATED!’ All my Heralds went off like hot cakes.” This shows how Dick is quick witted, with an entrepreneurial mindset. Despite this, Dick describes himself as ashamed following this deception. 

Inventiveness is promoted by Alger as a fundamental way of staying ahead of the trend, Dick has multiple ‘careers’ including selling matches, newspapers and most recently in the story, shoe shining. The ideology at work here is that through hard work and determination, it is possible to gain riches even if you were born to rags. This is an example or what is called the ‘Horatio Alger myth’, the embodiment of the classic American success (the rags to riches) story.

During the 1930’s and 40’s (Great Depression and World War II) Alger's works were virtually out of print. He was seen as a a propagandist, “the author who celebrated capitalist markets and insisted that in the United States, any poor boy with patience and an unwavering commitment to hard work can become a dazzling success.” The American population was increasingly disillusioned by this, as there wasn't the opportunity for social mobility, especially since many people lost their wealth at this time. Inventiveness and its relation to staying ahead of the trend was no longer a clear driving force behind the American Dream. 

American filmmaker, author, and liberal political commentator Michael Moore is vocal in his opposition to the Horatio Alger myth. In 2003, Moore remarked, "So, here's my question: after fleecing the American public and destroying the American dream for most working people, how is it that, instead of being drawn and quartered and hung at dawn at the city gates, the rich got a big wet kiss from Congress in the form of a record tax break, and no one says a word? How can that be? I think it's because we're still addicted to the Horatio Alger fantasy drug. Despite all the damage and all the evidence to the contrary, the average American still wants to hang on to this belief that maybe, just maybe, he or she (mostly he) just might make it big after all.” 

Its clear that the American Dream of a rags to riches story no longer remains particularly inventive in itself. Yet the dream allows for this type of story to thrive. 

Dicks obedience or lack thereof to other characters doesn't infringe on his inventiveness. He works around situations where obedience may hinder him (loosing money to the clerk in Chapter 3) and is inventive in his resolution (finding the guy to back up his claims on the money the clerk confiscated.)

Its not a question of Obedience versus Inventiveness, but instead knowing how to work them together to ones own benefit. Dick chooses to listen and be obedient to adults and to some degree other street kids when it suits him, but at the same time he is aware of when not to. Its this understanding of the appropriate time to engage in both which allows Dick to stay ahead of the game and ultimately gain social mobility, in true rags to riches fashion.