All Children Must Be in Class: Popular Representations of Class and Childhood in Nineteenth-Century America


  • Paul Moffett Memorial University of Newfoundland


Richard Outcault, Yellow Kid, Hogan’s Alley, childhood, George Thompson, City Crimes, city, class, city-mysteries


Focusing on George Thompson’s City Crimes and on Richard Outcault’s Yellow Kid newspaper comics, this article argues that nineteenth-century urban childhood is a constructed, classed identity. Though it has attracted less critical attention than gender, race, and class, age is also a social construct. Shared cultural assumptions mediate the way society imagines childhood and the way children are expected to behave. These assumptions play out in fiction, specifically in the ways children are depicted in fiction. Thompson and Outcault’s different depictions of childhood reflect the differing way the two writers associate childhood with class. Thompson depicts children as innocent, and as threatened by the corrupting influence of the city, because Thompson’s children are symbols of bourgeois purity. Outcault, by contrast, depicts children as a wild and corrupting influence upon the city, because Outcault’s children are symbols of poverty and its threat to bourgeois safety.

Author Biography

Paul Moffett, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Paul Moffett is a PhD student at Memorial University of Newfoundland. He is in the early stages of writing a thesis on the interaction of the sacred and the secular in medieval Arthurian literature. His interests are strongly divided between Medieval and popular literature, and he is frequently impressed by the parallels between the two. Moffett has presented papers in academic conferences on Arthurian literature and on the parallels between the history of comics publication and the development of print, and on American captivity narratives, and is working on turning each of these conference papers into articles for publication. He was the editor of the Canadian Mennonite University’s literary journal, is editing an upcoming issue of Postscript: A Graduate Journal of Theory and Criticism, has published a handful of book reviews and short stories, and currently lives in St. John’s with his wife and two daughters.