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Ragged Dick: Plot Summary

Ragged Dick, New York: Street and Smith Corporation, 1926. Reprint of original 1868 text

Ragged Dick cover image is borrowed from the Dime Novels Collection of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Rochester          Hero Ragged Dick is a homeless fourteen-year-old bootblack, known to be an honest young man. He is generous and industrious, but he is a spendthrift. His physiognomy is noted: he is a good-looking boy that appears aristocratic with a frank and open face.
          One day a patron, Mr. Whitney, puts his nephew, Frank, into Dick's charge to be given a tour of New York while he attends to business. Frank is a gentleman who gives Dick a new suit to replace the tattered rags he is wearing. After bathing and dressing, Dick compares himself to Cinderella. During the tour, Frank is impressed by Dick's quick wit and street smarts, comparing him to Aladdin and encourages Dick to go to school. In particular, Dick deftly handles an attempted "drop game," in which he scares away the con artist and keeps the wallet himself. Throughout the tour, Frank and Dick relate different rags-to-riches stories about important political and commercial celebrities. As the tour progresses, it takes on a fairy-tale tone, as the narrator compares the buildings of New York to the palaces of kings and queens. During the tour, there are several sequences in which Dick is falsely accused of thievery; because of his wit and natural likeability, he is always cleared.
          The next day a young bully, Mickey Maguire, who accuses Dick of trying to rise above his station, bothers him. Dick first confounds Mickey with his wit, but when the situation turns violent, he beats Mickey through physical prowess and chases him away. A younger, smaller boy named Henry Fosdick is nearby; he has been harassed by Mickey for some time. Henry, though an orphan, had had a father that sent him to school: rather than Dick's street smarts, Henry has a conventional education. Dick sees his own good qualities in Henry, and with "a certain chivalrous feeling" (154) offers to let Henry stay in his room in return for nightly lessons in reading, writing, and mathematics. Henry agrees, and the two also go into business together.
          Next, a former customer, Mr. Greyson, invites the boys to his house for dinner, at which Dick's natural likeability attracts Greyson's daughter, the nine-year old Ida. After the meal, Dick and Henry return to their room to discover that villain Jim Travis has stolen Dick's bankbook. The next day, Dick rushes to the bank to prevent Jim's withdrawal of his savings. Thanks to Dick's consistent deposits, the clerk knows him by his face, and believes his story. When Jim comes to the bank, he is arrested and swears revenge on Dick.
          Lastly, the two boys, while on the search for better-paying and more respectable jobs, take a trip on the ferry to Brooklyn by. En route, a young boy falls into the river, and the father swears great rewards to the rescuer. Dick, an excellent swimmer, dives off the ferry and saves the boy. The father turns out to be James Rockwell, a wealthy industrialist and patron, who rewards Dick by giving him a well-paying job as a clerk at his office. Dick introduces himself as "Richard Hunter," rather than "Dick." Richard returns home to find that Mickey Maguire has entered his room and stolen his old tattered clothes. With this final event, Richard is "cut off from the old vagabond life which he hoped never to resume" (279).