An Exemplary Close Reading

By Peter Sheeran
  There were no houses of good appearance near it, buildings being limited mainly to rude temporary huts used by workmen who were employed in improving it. The time will undoubtedly come when the Park will be surrounded by elegant residences, and compare favorably in this respect with the most attractive city in the world. But at the time when Frank and Dick visited it, not much could be said in favor of either the Park or its neighborhood.
  "If this is Central Park," said Frank, who naturally felt disappointed, "I don't think much of it. My father's got a large pasture that is much nicer."
  "It'll look better some time," said Dick. "There ain't much to see now but rocks. We will take a walk over it if you want to."
  "No," said Frank, "I've seen as much of it as I want to. Besides, I feel tired." (p. 48)

  In this passage from Ragged Dick, Horatio Alger employs the ongoing construction of Central Park as a metaphor for the transformation of Ragged Dick into the esteemed Richard Hunter, Esquire.

  The narrator informs the reader at the outset of this passage that when Dick and Frank are visiting the Park during its construction, there are "no houses of good appearance near it"; significantly, the buildings that are there are only "temporary." Central Park, like Ragged Dick, is simply a work-in-progress. Although externally it may appear rough and unpolished, as both the Park and Dick do to Frank, this situation is only transitory. Through diligent and honest work for Dick and "workmen" for the Park, a revolution will be completed, culminating in a respectable and elegant final product. The fact that Alger utilizes the word "undoubtedly" informs the reader that for both Dick and Central Park, self-improvement will assuredly be achieved through demanding effort, and this is designed to provide incentives and hope for the young reader.

  The passage also illuminates a dichotomy in Dick's and Frank's perception of the world. Frank, a genteel boy from the country, is unable to look past the superficial appearances of people and places. As he did upon first meeting Dick, Frank is "naturally" disgusted and disappointed. Although kind-hearted, Frank possesses an innate flaw that precludes him from seeing past simple appearances and examining more than just the beautiful. Alger utlizes Ragged Dick, an unpretentious urban boot-black, in a didactic lesson concerning the value of judging others not simpy on appearances.


Work Cited

Horatio Alger, Jr. Ragged Dick. New York: Penguin Books, 1985.