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The Horatio Alger Myth As narrative cinema developed throughout the first decades of the twentieth century (1900 – 1930), one type of story formula rose to prominence, becoming so popular it became known as the Horatio Alger myth. Horatio Alger was a former New England minister who wrote dime novels – cheap, often sensationalistic books that working-men could afford. Alger’s stories recounted the exploits of street urchins who rose to the top levels of society, often with the charitable aid of a kindly benefactor. Starting with a little or nothing but a “get-up-and-go” attitude, Alger’s heroes (always white and male) were rewarded for their gumption by gaining a successful career in industry, a valuable fortune, and the camaraderie of other businessmen. Alger’s very popular novels reworked the American Dream for turn-of-the-century urban America and helped to disseminate the idea that anyone (male) could succeed in America if he simply tried hard enough. It was sold on the idea of class assimilation, and joining the middle classes was obtainable and aspirational. Early cinema quickly picked up on this narrative formula, and films expressing the Horatio Alger myth can be found throughout American film history, from early silent films such as The 100-to-1 Shot (1906) and Barney Oldfield’s Race For Life (1913) to the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

In many ways the Horation Alger myth is the basis for classic Hollywood narrative form, in which white male heroes with consistent pluck and determination overcome hardship or villainy and obtain (economic) success by the end of the film. Are there any elements of


the Alger Myth in either of the films shown?

The Horatio Alger Myth  

In many ways the Horation Alger myth is the basis for classic Hollywood narrative form, in which white male heroes with consistent pluck and...

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