In his Introduction to Ragged Dick, Alan Trachtenberg makes the claim that "at the heart of the story sits the graven mystery of money: how it reproduces itself, remakes identities, transforms Ragged Dick into Richard Hunter" (p. xix). After reading the novel, though, the reader is left to wonder whether or not Trachtenberg's assertion is correct or not. While it is certainly true that Ragged Dick is a story of a young man who overcomes incredible odds to make something of himself, it is not necessarily evident that money is solely responsible for his unlikely ascent. It seems rather clear to me that Dick, or Richard Hunter as he has come to be known, possessed many qualities that would allow for his upward mobility. Among the most important are Dick's willingness to work hard, his honesty, his natural intelligence, and his charisma. It does not seem so much that Ragged Dick's rising status came as a result of his having money, but rather the opposite. It seems that through his own hard work, and a little bit or good fortune, that Dick was able to slowly but surely climb the social latter, and as a result of this he made more and more money. It would be unfair to Dick's good character to say that money alone was responsible for his truly incredible transformation.
First and foremost, it is Ragged Dick's extraordinary work ethic that made the biggest impact on his ability to rise up over adversity and make something of himself. This most admirable quality is displayed right from the first page of the book, and it does not waver a bit throughout. When we first meet Dick, we learn that he supports himself as a boot black on the streets of New York City. Despite the small price he charges for his service, Dick's hard work and dedication to his job usually allow him enough money for reasonable meals, and even the occasional night of entertainment at the theater. At this time though, Dick did not know any better than to spend his money so frivolously, as he did not believe that he had it in him to be in any better a situation than the one that he found himself in.