The Need for Change in Ragged Dick and The Yellow Wallpaper Essay

September 29, 2020 by Essay Writer

The Messages of the Stories

Ragged Dick and Struggling Upward by Horatio Alger and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte P. Gilman are two entirely different books. The books are written in different periods and focus on different issues. For instance, Ragged Dick and Struggling Upward was published in the 1870s. It deals with a boys’ way from rags to respectability. The Yellow Wallpaper was published at the end of the nineteenth century.

The book concerns a respectable woman’s psychological instability and her way to insanity. Nevertheless, the two books share a significant point calling for the change in contemporary American society. The messages are somewhat different since the books concentrate on various issues in society. However, the two authors articulate the importance of such changes that are vital for the development of the personality and the entire society.

The Need for Change in Ragged Dick

Admittedly, the middle of the nineteenth century was characterized by social and economic constraints that the majority of Americans faced. However, many people who worked hard and were persistent enough formed a “middle-class social group” (Murrin et al., “Liberty, Equality, Power: Volume 1” 488).

Thus, respectability was one of the existing values of that period. Horatio Alger depicted one of such success stories about reaching respectability in his Ragged Dick and Struggling Upward. One of the significant ideas of the book is that honest and hardworking people always succeed in life. The author calls for the change in the ways of life in contemporary society. He depicts the result of such change: his main character, Dick, who was not a “model boy in all respects,” changed his ways and became a respectable man (Alger 6).

Dick abandoned his bad habits of drinking, gambling wasting money, and started saving self-developing. Of course, the quite idealistic story tells that even chance is on the side of people of such virtues: the main character saves a boy, and the grateful father shows his gratitude by employing him. However, the author is not concerned with credibility. He only wants to show the way how people should change.

The Need for Change in The Yellow Wallpaper

As far as The Yellow Wallpaper is concerned, it is essential to state that it also contains a call for change in contemporary society. According to Charlotte P. Gilman, the change should occur in the role of women in society and the relationship between women and men.
Admittedly, women at the end of the nineteenth century were mainly suppressed by masculine order. Though some women discovered “liberties in dress, employment, dating, and sex,” the majority of them were “unable to rise” and be their own masters (Murrin et al., “Liberty, Equality, Power: Volume 2” 769).

Gilman states that it is vital for women to change the ways women are treated. Thus, the author points out that suppression can lead to very negative outcomes, e.g., insanity. Gilman’s main character confesses that she knows that men (her husband, brother, and a prominent doctor) can be wrong and are wrong in treating her: “Personally, I disagree with their ideas” (2).

Nevertheless, the woman does not know what to do. She is only capable of asking herself the same question: “But what is one to do?” (Gilman 2). The author answers the question in the book. She states that work and active social role can save women from losing their minds, from degradation. Gilman calls for the need to stop women’s isolation. Gilman claims that this is the necessary change which will improve the contemporary society.

Similarities and Differences in Gilman’s and Alger’s Critiques

From first sight, it is possible to state that the two books touch upon different issues and seek for different changes in society. A story of a poor boy cannot possibly contain the same messages as the book about a respectful and well-to-do female’s story. The main characters of the book pertain to different social and gender groups.

The boy is preoccupied with making money for living and becoming respectful. The woman does not have to think about gaining wealth, but she is preoccupied with her psychological problems. However, the two authors claim that work is vital for people: the boy becomes respectable because he works hard, and, on the contrary, the woman loses her mind because of isolation and forced inaction, because of the lack of work. The two books criticize the society of their time for inappropriate order.


The books by Alger and Gilman reveal the constraints of particular groups of people and their longing to the change in contemporary society. Both authors suggest their vision of what should be done. Interestingly, the two books condemn inaction and idleness, which can lead only to poverty or even insanity. Thus, the books can be regarded as certain guidance for people of the nineteenth century who did not want to follow unfortunate examples but wanted to succeed in life.

Works Cited

Alger, Horatio, Jr. Ragged Dick: Or, Street Life in New York with the Boot Blacks. New York: Signet Classics, 2005.
Gilman, Charlotte P. The Yellow Wallpaper. New York: The Feminist Press, 1977.

Murrin, John M., Johnson, Paul E., McPherson, James M., Fahs, Alice, and Gary Gerstle. Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People, Since 1863, Volume 2. Boston: Thomson Higher Education, 2007.

Murrin, John M., Johnson, Paul E., McPherson, James M., Fahs, Alice, and Emily S. Rosenberg. Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People, Volume I: To 1877, Concise Edition. Boston: Wadsworth Publishing, 2010.

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