Trachtenberg points out that Alger had tremendous sympathy for boys and discovered a calling for himself in the composition of boys' books: "He learned to consult the boy in himself," Trachtenberg writes, "[T]o transmute and recast himself—his genteel culture, his liberal patrician sympathy for underdogs, his shaky economic status as an author, and not least, his dangerous erotic attraction to boys—into his juvenile fiction." He believes it impossible to know whether Alger lived the life of a secret homosexual, "[b]ut there are hints that the male companionship he describes as a refuge from the streets—the cozy domestic arrangements between Dick and Fosdick, for example—may also be an erotic relationship."
Trachtenberg observes that nothing prurient occurs in Ragged Dick but posits that "the few instances of boys touching each other tenderly or older men laying a light hand on the shoulder of boys, might arouse erotic wishes in readers prepared to entertain such fantasies." Such images, Trachtenberg believes, may imply "a positive view of homoeroticism as an alternative way of life, of living by sympathy rather than aggression." Trachtenberg concludes "[I]n Ragged Dick we see Alger plotting domestic romance, complete with a surrogate marriage of two homeless boys, as the setting for his formulaic metamorphosis of an outcast street boy into a self-respecting citizen."