For a long time, the issue of gender discrimination, class and race have been rampant in the United States. As indicated in the book Ragged Dick, written by Haratio Alger, the immigrants, majority of whom were from Africa, Europe and Asia communities were categorized by the dominant white race as minorities. The main aim of this paper is to compare the issues that are covered by Alger with other sources, both primary and secondary, with the basic aim of understanding life in the U.S. during as well as after the Civil War.
Alger offers three distinct theories that help the reader understand the inequality that existed in the United States. This includes cultural deficiency, bias theory, and structural theory. The cultural deficiencies define the minority groups as inferior and having inappropriate ways of thinking, reasoning, and acting. It is notable that transformation that occurred in the U.S. resulted to industrialization and growth in commerce, although there were no any profound changes that took place until urbanization. For instance, Ragged Dick was involved into a shoe shining business that he highly considered his professional business, a factor that indicates the hard life faced by many immigrants, especially those from Canada, Latin America, Japan, Europe, and China.
Most of the population in the inner cities was represented by immigrant, majority of who were living in deplorable conditions simply known as “immigrant ghettos.” Tales were also told in local languages, thus maintaining a close connection between the immigrants with the communities that they left in their home countries. There was the second-generation of immigrants, who demanded for equal rights, especially in the work places, a factor that significantly reduced discrimination in many places.
Due to urbanization and industrialization, the immigrants were faced with various disturbing issues, such as frequency of great fires, diseases, plague, and overcrowding of the working class neighborhoods. Violence was also rampant leading to the establishment of larger and more professional police force. As explained by Alger, there were class divisions, which influenced growing interests in leisure. In conclusion one can see that, immigration resulted to overcrowding, corruption, among other vices, which have affected the U.S. society up to date.
Transformations in the USA
Alger discusses the issues of race, class, and gender in his book Ragged Dick. In the history of the United States, race, class and gender discrimination have been rampant during the past centuries. The migrants who were mainly the minority groups were categorized by the dominant white race representatives as minorities. This explains the transformations that have occurred in the history of the USA; thus, it is important to compare the issues covered by Alger and other primary and secondary sources in order to understand life in the United States during and after the Civil War. Alger brings up the issues of race, class, gender in his art and life. He provides readers with different ways to understand gender, racial, and class discrimination against then African immigrants in the US. There are many ways of understanding these inequalities because many people have different views on these topics. The USA is a state of many immigrants, groups, as well as cultures in its populations, and has experienced various problems considering the dominant minority relationships that have made the society increasingly diverse.
Alger provides an understanding of the three important popular theories including cultural deficiency, bias theory, and structural theory. In this essay, I will explain the similarities of the issues covered by Alger in the Ragged Dick and various materials that describe different theories on class, racial, and gender discrimination. Cultural deficiencies have been used to define the minority groups as inferior and having inappropriate ways of thinking, reasoning, and acting. By this, I refer to the immigrants who are the minority in the US. These minority groups feel and act as if they are discriminated against. The ideas of discrimination are imparted to the younger generation because the minority group teaches these ideas to their children through their actions and words. In the 19th century, society typically associated race with ethnic identity and skin color as well as national identity.
During the 19th century, the emergence of different races in the US made Italians to be seen as a different race then the Irish, for example; however, both were different from the Germans and the English. In Ragged Dick, Frank Whitney’s father tells Dick to “Remember that your future position depends mainly upon yourself, and that it will be high or low as you choose to make it”1.Yet, the path to economic security and social mobility in the United States in the 19th century was seldom simple as seen from these statements and provided in the writings of Alger.
Transformations that occurred in the United States of America occurred in several ways and led to industrialization and growth of commerce. However, there were no profound changes until the urbanization. US started as an agrarian economy, but advanced into an urban nation in the late 19th century. During the Civil War, the urban population increased at a high rate. Death and infant mortality rates grew in number while fertility rate decreased. However, urbanization was accelerated by immigration. During the 19th century, American citizens moved from areas with declining agricultural productivity to the cities of the East and Midwest. Most migrants were of African origin and were escaping poverty, conflicts, debt, and discrimination that they faced in the rural south. Discrimination was evident in the work places, particularly in the factories, since the black-skinned were only qualified to do unskilled labor as cooks or domestic servants. For example, Ragged Dick was involved into a shoe shining business that he considered his professional business2. Many African Americans were involved in hard labor as well as unskilled labor. The immigrants were also staying in absolute poverty, as explained by Ragged Dick that General Washington provided his pants and coats to him because he did not have any of his own. This also contributed to gender inequality in the work places because most of the unskilled labor was work undertaken by women. Foreign immigrants who migrated in large numbers influenced urban population; for instance, some of the immigrants were from Canada, Latin America, China, and Japan. The greatest number of new comers arrived from Europe. In the earlier years, some of the immigrants from Europe brought wealth with them. The ones who appeared later lacked capital to buy land and headed west. In addition, before the Civil War, Irish immigrants settled in the industrial areas where most of them got absorbed into unskilled labor3
Most of the population in the inner cities was represented by immigrants. This led to racism due to the diversity of the populace. Thus, by 1890, no single race dominated in the US. Most immigrants were rural people greatly affected by culture shock. Some of them managed to recover from culture shock by forming close-knit ethnic groupings within the inner cities and the neighborhood, commonly referred to as ‘immigrant ghettos’. These ethnic grouping offered new comers vital information from newspapers and theatres in native languages. There were also tales told in their local languages. This led to the emergence of community organizations where the immigrants maintained close ties with their native nations. They maintained close connections with the communities that they left in their home countries; some even returned within a very short term. On the other hand, other immigrants even assisted their communities to migrate to the US. Thus, the cultural cohesiveness helped to ease the pain of separation from the immigrant’s native countries. This enabled them to adapt to the American economic life. The migrations that transformed the American society formed part of great global movement that influenced the entire world4. The major impact was provided by population growth and industrialization. The ethnic neighborhoods and the immigrant groups reinforced the cultural values that were well suited to economic development. However, discrimination by the whites made it difficult for some immigrants to advance. Among those affected are immigrants who had valuable skills as well as capital5. The immigrants who occupied the inner cities came to dominate due to assimilation and exclusion. Most of these occupants were young people who shared the experience of living in the inner cities. Hence, most of the immigrants with foreign-born ethnic ties were involved in a competition against the desire for assimilation.
Second-generation immigrants decided to come with new ways of socialization; for instance, women demanded for their rights as a way of preventing forced marriages or gender discrimination in the workplace. The natives also influenced assimilation by requiring English to be included in the curriculum in public schools, and employers demanded that workers use English at the workplace. Church leaders were usually native born Americans or more assimilated immigrants who encouraged the new comers to adopt American lifestyle. Other reforms were made to conform to the norms of the new country. Consequently, many immigrants maintained their ethnic cultures and led to the creation of distinctive communities.
There were restrictions that led to the screening of immigrants through standards like literacy tests; however, these restrictions kept away only a small number of aliens because the immigrants provided cheap and plentiful labor to the rapidly growing economy that accelerated the industrial development of the US5. Class system was very rampant because wealthy citizens were the principal force behind the creation of great art museum and other social and recreation facilities such as parks. As the material and social aspirations of the wealthy grew, they required the public life and demanded the city to provide them with amenities that would match their expectations. Due to urbanization and industrialization, the immigrants were faced with various disturbing facts including the frequency of great fires, diseases, plague, and overcrowding of the working class neighborhoods. The immigrants were exposed to improper disposal of human and industrial waste, air pollution. Above all, urban poverty, crime, and violence accelerated with little success due to the involvement of middle-class people who believed that a lot of assistance would contribute to dependency. They grew particularly alarmed over the increasing number of children in the inner cities that attracted a lot of attention among the reformers. However, the attention never lasted for long. Poverty and overcrowding led into crime and violence. The native-born Americans believed that immigrants committed crimes because of the violence proclivities among their populations. This led to the creation of larger and more professional police force. The immigrants could only seek protection from the political machine that owed its existence to the power vacuum that the growth of the cities created for the political voting power. Class divisions influenced the growing interest in leisure where members of the middle class spent a lot of time. Leisure life bridged the differences of class, race, and gender. For instance, saloons and certain sporting events were male activities6. According to Alger, Ragged Dick, like other immigrants, could socialize in gambling houses that were overcrowded by young boys who misused their hard earnings. At these meetings, the juveniles would take refreshments at two cents a glass. Shopping and attending the tearooms were associated with women. This is in contrast to the cafeteria attended by the immigrants. Alger explains that the tearoom that Ragged Dick attended was a small apartment with a few plain tables without tablecloths; the class of clients who attended it was not very familiar. The meals provided were substandard. On the other hand, popular forms of entertainment developed in the cities whereby many ethnic communities maintained their own style. The Media opened few entertainments to the black performers due to racial discrimination. In addition, performers of both races tailored their acts to prevailing white prejudices in a manner that ridiculed the blacks. Discrimination was also prevalent in the schooling system. Even though compulsory school attendance laws existed, the rural school lagged behind the urban schools. In the South, most immigrants had no access to the public schools, but for the whites opportunities for schooling expanded drastically. In addition, during the post-Civil War era, there were important educational opportunities open for women, they were less for men and denied to black women7.
In conclusion, immigration led to the development of cities characterized by corruption, filth, overcrowding, and diseases. The city governments were dominated by political machines and ruled by party bosses that were the major source of inefficiencies as well as corruption. These cities brought together races, ethnic groups, and class systems. Hence, the immigrants were greatly affected by racial, class and gender discrimination8.