The Horatio Alger Myth


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  • You have to promise to work hard, young Atticus. The world is a tough place, but one day you can be just as successful as Carnegie. He started off with nothing, just like you.
  • You really think I can do it? Everyone else tries really hard too. How come they can't become rich?
  • Well, they haven't worked hard enough if they're still poor, right? You have to work harder than everyone if you want to get somewhere. Remember, son, everything is possible.
  • Ok Dad. I'm going to work as hard as I can, and one day, I'll be just like Carnegie.
  • Later...
  • Atticus, I understand you want to be a successful businessman one day. I want you to know how difficult it can be out there. The truth is, hard work doesn't always mean riches, ok?
  • Mr. Beeley, my dad says hard work will make me rich. Every day after school I work hard at the button factory and during school I study hard. So I have to be successful.
  • I'm sorry, Atticus. It's called the Horatio Alger myth. Your father is a poor factory worker and your family is of African American descent. You have essentially no chance of becoming successful like Carnegie; it is simply impossible in today's world.
  • Dad promised me that one day I'll do amazing things. If I work hard like Carnegie did, why can't I become successful, too? It doesn't make sense Mr. Beeley.
  • This is one of the better cases of people living under the Horatio Alger Myth. Most have their dreams crushed far later or continue living under these misconceptions for the entirety of their lives.
  • I know, son. Life isn't fair.
  • In the face of rough times, people liked to believe the widening gap between the rich and the poor was crossable through hard work. They idolized successful businessman like Andrew Carnegie who went from rags to riches. However, for the vast majority, once poor always poor. And don't be fooled: this same myth is very relevant today. Are you subject to it?
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