The hero of Ragged Dick is a veritable “diamond in the rough”—as innately virtuous as he is streetwise and cocky. Immediately popular with young readers, the novel also appealed to parents, who repsonded to its colorful espousal of the Protestant ethic. Struggling Upward, published nearly thirty years later, followed the same time-tested formulas, and despite critical indifference it, too, had mass appeal.
As Carl Bode points out in his introduction, Horatio Alger filled a void in American literature and met scant competition both in the nature and the number of his works. Like his heroes, Alger rose to the top by chance, coincidence, and hard work.