As the Civil War was ending, a Massachusetts author by the name of Horatio Alger was making a name for himself with a series of books about young boys who by the will of their efforts and work ethic were able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps into the middle class. Ragged Dick, the most popular of these tales, tells the story of a vagabond boy who finds himself transformed by a series of fortunate events into the respectable Richard Hunter, Esq. The fact that his name is Dick Hunter aside, the story entrenched the idea in the American psyche that it was the Protestant ethics of hard work and prudence that thrust him upward in society, not chance or privilege. It has become so ingrained in American lore that hard work leads to middle class respectability that we call it the American Dream. But as the Depression followed the rapid rise of industry that led to so much prosperity for some, Nathanael West decided that it was high time to tell a different side of the American Dream in his biting satire A Cool Million, a work that is as important now, if not more, in taking down the Horatio Alger myth. Read more.
- A Cool Million – Nathanael West: A Cool Million