Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Rags to Riches

When I was about thirteen my father gave me a copy of " Jed, the Poorhouse Boy ". He found it in his father's possessions after the funeral. Horatio Alger Junior had written dozens upon dozens of similar formulaic stories with the theme of rags to riches, or at least, rags to wellbeing, achieved because of goodness and decency. The modern equivalent of "entitlement to advance" is the antithesis of the Alger tale. The Alger theme is embedded in the human psyche, deeply evocative of justice and reward. Many of us are moved by rags to riches stories and want to identify with them, parlously close to fibbing about our origins in order to connect. I remember competing with my colleagues about who came from the most straited circumstances, as a badge of honor. Who walked the furthest through snow to school and who had the most spartan lunch, or for that matter who had lunch at all. Who struggled despite adversity and conquered. It was all more or less sham. There were few Abe Lincolns amongst us. Living in this country, Canada, the adversity is only relative. Horatio Alger's heros were always assisted by a kind and interested older gentleman, an avuncular father figure who selected, our little lad, out of all the other, more ragamuffin, newsboys. One might have considered,given the thematic nature and repetitive story line of needy boy, generous older man, no girls allowed, that Horatio Alger Junior may well have had pederasty as a unconscious subtheme. Living vicariously! We know he took Greek at Harvard. It is pretty certain that he battled his own demons! Still ,at thirteen, I loved the book!

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