The Yellow Kid on the Paper Stage
Introduction Origins of the Kid Class Warfare on the Urban Stage Race and Ethnicity Selling the Kid The Death of the Kid
McFadden's Row of Flats
"First Championship Game of the Hogan's Alley Baseball Team."
"A Merry X-Mas in McFadden's Flats."

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The top and bottom image links are very large, so that Townsend's dialect text can be read.

Exploiting Race and Ethnicity

Dialect and Slums

Outcault's use of dialect ties in prejudice against the Irish to fears of the dangerous classes found in ethnic-centered slums. One journalist wrote in 1892 that instead of sending missionaries to Africa, we should turn instead to the "'white savages' in 'Darkest New York.'"1 Gavin Jones writes in Strange Talk: The Politics of Dialect Literature in Gilded Age America:

"There were, then, two sides to the new language developing in New York. The native, working-class population was speaking a slangy, blasphemous dialect that seemed radically separate from traditional English [according to evangelists]. And the alien quality of this tongue was exacerbated by the immigrant impact on the city."2 Critics of Maggie were horrified by Crane's dialogue—including such phrases as 'What d'hell.'"3

To many, the cursing in Maggie showed his "profound assault upon conventional morality and upon the significance of religious discourse."4 Yet more authors were trying out dialect writing. Edward W. Townsend, who later collaborated with Outcault on the Yellow Kid, was the author of a popular series called Chimmie Fadden, in which a Bowery St. "tough" (Chimmie) interacts with polite society in New York:

"Designed for the polite readers of New York's literary magazines, Chimmie Fadden is the lovable rogue with a heart of gold, who punches people in the nose only when so instructed by his wealthy employers. These stories demystify the 'low life'; they make New York's 'dangerous classes' seem sentimental, romantic, and therefore harmless to the social elite."5

Chimmie's similarity to the Yellow Kid—Chimmie interacts with the rich, the Kid imitates or mocks the rich—reveals the availability of class and dialect as dramatic tools. Such dialect fiction reached into the Midwest as well; journalist Finley Peter Dunne first experimented with using Irish dialect in an editorial in December 1892, and the first of what he called the "Mr. Dooley" essays appeared soon after, with the first recognized column appearing in October 1893.6 The column didn't reach a national audience until 1898, when he began discussing national affairs in the Chicago Journal—specifically the war with Spain—rather than Chicago politics. 7

Outcault's first Yellow Kid cartoons feature slum dialect as an aside, but it soon crept into signs, advertisements, and onto the Kid's shirt, which became his method for communicating with the audience. With the addition of Townsend and Rudolph Block in 1896-97, more room was made for Irish dialect dialogues. The dialect was identified with the Irish population through the name of the comic (Hogan's Alley), the names of the characters, such as Mickey Dugan (the Yellow Kid's official name starting in 1896), Snag McFarlin (May 19, 1895), Chimmey McManus and Elizabeth Clinchy (November 24, 1895), and location indicators, such as O'Reilly's Pond (September 22, 1895), and advertisements of local services (Madame Rooney Stylish Washing and Ironing, Murphy's Saloon, Madam Flynn Modes). At times Outcault appears to make the dialect as much about lack of education in the slums as portraying a specific dialect ("Ambulantz," for example, in "First Championship Game of the Hogan's Alley Baseball Team."). The Yellow Kid was adapting the tradition of the ethnic act, complete with working-class or Irish dialect—and improvisations upon dialect.

From Mr. Dooley's column, "Molly's Vaudeville Show":

"They'se another scandal in th' Donahue family," said Mr. Dooley.
"What about?" asked Mr. McKenna, eagerly.
"Molly give a vowdyvill," replied Mr. Dooley.
"A what?"
"A-a vowdyvill."
"I tol' ye twict she give a v'riety show," said Mr. Dooley angrily. "Now d'ye know? She's been th' leader iv society so long in th' sixth wa-ard that she was not to be downed be th' Hogans. They give a progressive spoil-five par-rty an' she med up her mind she'd toss thim over th' gashouse--socially, I mane--be havin' a v'riety show. An' she done it. . . .

—Fanning, Charles, ed. Mr. Dooley and the Chicago Irish: An Anthology. New York: Arno Press, 1976. 216-217.

View large images to read Townsend's text:
"A Merry X-Mas in McFadden's Flats."
"McFadden's Row of Flats."

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1 Jones, Gavin. Strange Talk: The Politics of Dialect Literature in Gilded Age America. Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, 1999. 137.

2 Jones 139.

3 Jones 143.

4 Jones 146.

5 Jones 143-144.

6 Ellis, Elmer. Mr. Dooley's America: A Life of Finley Peter Dunne. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1941. 60, 78.

7 Ellis 110, 113.