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Alger’s “Ragged Dick” and Gilman’s “Yellow Wallpaper”


Theme: To seek the similarities between the two readings and also to illustrate the changes in contemporary American society concerning two narratives written in the late 19th century namely Horatio Alger’s “Ragged Dick” and Charlotte Gilman’s “Yellow Wall-Paper”.

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The contemporary American society has transformed in many aspects since the late 19th century. This has seen the creation of cities and the emergence of the middle-class level that narrowed down the gap between the rich and poor. With time, American society has also witnessed the evolution from a male-dominated society to a women empowerment era characterized by massive advancement in terms of women representation in the cooperate world. In this write-up, I intend to seek the similarities between the two readings and also to illustrate the commendable changes in the contemporary American society concerning two narratives written in the late 19th century: Horatio Alger “Ragged Dick” and Charlotte Gilman “Yellow Wall-Paper”.

Ragged dick is a book written by Alger in the late 19th century to narrate the plight of a fourteen-year-old homeless boy who has defied the odds of his poverty status to rise from rags to riches. The center stage of this story is New York City which the author views as a land of opportunities for the young hardworking and educated men. The author brings out the heroic character of a young man who is determined and ambitious enough to dare change his helpless lifestyle.

The main character Ragged Dicks, is vividly described by Alger as an honest, noble, hardworking, ambitious, and naturally likable person. The author further asserts that aside from being intellectually challenged, Dick was a street smart and witty, to the extent that he could maneuver his way around difficult scenarios of the city such as robbery and fraud that characterized New York back in the 19th century.

Dick takes advantage of homeless Henry to achieve his long time dream of becoming an intellectual by offering him shelter as a consideration for his prowess in reading, writing, and mathematics (Alger Ch. XVI). Throughout the book, the author draws to dicks a positive attitude towards life. The story is inspiring in the sense that dick is not weighed down by his condition but utilizes the available resources to climb the success ladder. Dick’s story can be termed as optimistic since he believed in himself and was quick to grab any opportunity that came his way. For instance, the climax of his success was the clerical job that he acquired after saving the son of a rich baron. The whole story revolves around the importance of honesty, hard work, determination, and above all patience (Alger Ch. II).

Yellow wallpaper a story written in the late 19th century by Gilman revolves around a woman who was confined to her bed due to her mental breakdown. The yellow wallpaper refers to the wallpaper in her confined room but is symbolically indicating the progress of her mental condition. The story highlights the oppression of women who have postpartum depression by sentencing them to live in an inactive state of mind and denying them the freedom to acquire treatment.

The story of Jane is pitiful as a qualified writer, she is not able to practice her art and therefore, she feels like the society looks down upon her creativity, and this subject her to more depression and hallucinations (Gilman 1).

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To help her recuperate, Jane’s husband confined her to bed rest with the hope that resting and lack of any form of stimulation would make her recover quickly as rigorous thinking was detrimental to women who were believed to be weak and thus not allowed to think under such circumstances. Contrary to this, Jane’s condition deteriorated over time due to her continued lack of freedom to write (Gilman 1).

The story of Ragged dick is a big contrast to Jane’s story because while the former is based on the freedom to explore opportunities in the high life society of a big city, the latter is denied the freedom to explore her ability and potential thus confined in a room that limits ones thinking. Jane portrays sadness and anger bestowed in her life and does not understand why society treats women with content while on the other hand, rugged dick is hopeful, optimistic, and excited about what life has to offer to the determined and honest being.

In Charlotte’s story society undermines the role of women by not giving them a chance to be creative and become independent. Thus, frustrating any attempt to better their lives and associate with other people undergoing the same dilemma. In contrast to this, Dick’s case is uplifting where motivation and assistance from other people were the driving force for his achievements.

Gilman’s story emphasizes Jane’s husband’s ignorance concerning his understanding of the cure to her ailment and portrays the poor condition of the health care system while in Dick’s case, his friends were careful to notice his potential and work towards nurturing it. Dick’s story seeks to empower young people with potential rather than demoralizing them like in Jane’s case where instead of the society appreciating her skill of writing they denied her the freedom to express herself.

Relevance of the two narratives to contemporary American Society

As depicted in the American history lecture, Dick’s story signifies the extremes of wealth and poverty in American society and tries to emulate that given a chance everyone is capable of shaping their destiny if only they invest in self-actualization, acceptance, and humility. This seeks to advocate for a hardworking optimistic society whose core ethics of survival are not limited to the mighty and educated but rather open to anyone who has a dream and hope for a better life. This is very applicable in the American culture that gives everyone a chance to attain their American dream of success (Lecture-Wealth and Poverty in the Gilded Age).

In her story, Gilman portrays society as being chauvinistic and limiting to women in making them believe that they are weak and incapable of thinking at the same level as men. In the American history lecture, this however is not applicable in the current American society where women have evolved from domesticity and become more proactive in demanding gender equality in the cooperate world. They have also consistently proven to be competent and at par with their male counterparts (Murrin et al. Ch.18). More so, with the massive improvement in the health care sector over the years, postpartum depression is no longer a myth and very treatable through psychotherapy (Lecture-The New Woman and Modern Public Space).

Works Cited

Gilman, Perkins C. The Yellow Wallpaper. 1899. Web.

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Alger, Horatio. Ragged Dick Or, Street Life in New York with the Boot-blacks. 2006. Web.

Murrin, John, et al. Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People Volume 2, Since 1863. 5th ed. Belmont: Wadsworth Pub Co., 2010. Lecture Notes.

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StudyCorgi. (2020, December 30). Alger's "Ragged Dick" and Gilman's "Yellow Wallpaper". Retrieved from

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"Alger's "Ragged Dick" and Gilman's "Yellow Wallpaper"." StudyCorgi, 30 Dec. 2020,

1. StudyCorgi. "Alger's "Ragged Dick" and Gilman's "Yellow Wallpaper"." December 30, 2020.


StudyCorgi. "Alger's "Ragged Dick" and Gilman's "Yellow Wallpaper"." December 30, 2020.


StudyCorgi. 2020. "Alger's "Ragged Dick" and Gilman's "Yellow Wallpaper"." December 30, 2020.


StudyCorgi. (2020) 'Alger's "Ragged Dick" and Gilman's "Yellow Wallpaper"'. 30 December.

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