the didactic lessons taught by the Alger narrator have less to do with the sharp-dealing and tooth-and-claw practices of the Jim Fiskes and Daniel Drews in the actual business world of the late 1860s than with simple self-respect. For Alger bourgeois life means security, comfort, cultivation, companionship, responsibility - the reverse of cut-throat competitiveness.Trachtenberg goes on to comment that
Judicious economy is key in Alger's imagined world. It represents his effort to securalize the mystery of money, to bring it under the rational control of human will. Savings "earn" interest (a mystery in itself that even knowledge of arithmetic cannot explain), which then becomes discretionary income Dick can spend doing good, thereby exchanging potential capital for the more valuable (exchangeable) good of self-approval - a step toward attainment of the highest good: respectability. Thus Alger transfigures capitalist investment from an economic into a moral act: Dick exchanges the unearned increment of his saving (interest) into a gift that then earns him an intangible but real increment of moral value, in turn marketable as "respectability".The commodification of virtue and saleability of respectability - prayer meetings led by Enron's Ken Lay, for example - is highlighted in D. Michael Lindsay's Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite (New York: Oxford Uni Press 2007), a look at some of the people who prefer a more traditional reading of Alger or who rely on works such as God Is My CEO (nothing like a chief executive without pesky shareholders or regulators and naming The Big Guy as CEO avoids the hubris implicit in 'God Is My Co-Pilot'). The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans Inc (HAADA)
bears the name of the renowned author Horatio Alger, Jr., whose tales of overcoming adversity through unyielding perseverance and basic moral principles captivated the public in the late 19th century. The Association ... was established in 1947 to dispel the mounting belief among the nation's youth that the American Dream was no longer attainable. [It] is dedicated to the simple but powerful belief that hard work, honesty and determination can conquer all obstacles. Today, through its Members, the Association continues to educate our nation's young people about the economic and personal opportunities afforded them by the promise of the American free enterprise system.Perhaps the mounting belief was attributable to loss of "precious bodily fluids" under the influence of arch-socialist FDR.
Trachtenberg touches on Alger's self-construction after an enforced departure from Brewster for what might now be characterised as child molestation, noted in The Lost Life of Horatio Alger, Jr. (Bloomington: Indiana Uni Press 1985) by Gary Scharnhorst & Jack Bales and The Fictional Republic: Horatio Alger and American Political Discourse (New York: Oxford Uni Press 1994) by Carol Nackenoff, commenting that
It is impossible to know whether Alger actually lived a double life, closeted as a secret homosexual. But there are hints that the male companionship he describes as a refuge from the streets - the cosy domestic arrangements between Dick and Fosdick, for example - may also have been an erotic relationship, or at least physically close enough so that the few instances of boys touching each other tenderly, or older men laying a light hand on the shoulder of boys, might arouse erotic wishes in readers prepared to entertain such fantasies. Nothing prurient appears in Ragged Dick but the vision of happiness in Dick's safe harbor with Fosdick, and the allure of good-looking youngsters for kindly older men - images that project Alger's critique of the same aggressive individualism he is supposed to have celebrated - may also imply a positive view of homoeroticism as an alternative way of life, a way of living by sympathy rather than by aggression.Cue Edward Carpenter?
'Tomboys, Bad Boys, and Horatio Alger: When Fatherhood Became a Problem' by David Leverenz in 10(1) American Literary History (1998) 219-236 more pointedly asks
Why does nobody notice that this model of boyish honesty is lying all the time? Not only does Dick continuously fake upscale connections, but his linguistic bravado constitutes much of his appeal. As with Pen Lapham, people call it "droll." As with Pen Lapham, Dick's drolling enables his upward mobility by pleasing his listeners. Why? Perhaps Dick's extravagant name dropping admiringly yet mockingly mirrors his audience's uneasy negotiations between character and theatricality, sincerity and fraud.