Outcault's use of dialect ties in prejudice against the
Irish to fears of the dangerous classes found in ethnic-centered
slums. One journalist wrote in 1892 that instead of sending
missionaries to Africa, we should turn instead to the "'white savages' in 'Darkest New York.'"1 Gavin Jones
writes in Strange Talk: The Politics of Dialect Literature in Gilded Age America:
"There were, then, two sides to the new language developing
in New York. The native, working-class population was speaking
a slangy, blasphemous dialect that seemed radically separate
from traditional English [according to evangelists]. And
the alien quality of this tongue was exacerbated by the immigrant
impact on the city."2 Critics
of Maggie were horrified by Crane's dialogue—including such phrases as 'What d'hell.'"3
To many, the cursing in Maggie showed his "profound
assault upon conventional morality and upon the significance
of religious discourse."4 Yet
more authors were trying out dialect writing. Edward W. Townsend,
who later collaborated with Outcault on the Yellow Kid, was
the author of a popular series called Chimmie Fadden,
in which a Bowery St. "tough" (Chimmie) interacts with
polite society in New York:
"Designed for the polite readers of New York's literary
magazines, Chimmie Fadden is the lovable rogue with a heart
of gold, who punches people in the nose only when so instructed
by his wealthy employers. These stories demystify the 'low
life'; they make New York's 'dangerous classes' seem sentimental, romantic, and therefore harmless to the
Chimmie's similarity to the Yellow Kid—Chimmie interacts
with the rich, the Kid imitates or mocks the rich—reveals
the availability of class and dialect as dramatic tools.
Such dialect fiction reached into the Midwest as well; journalist
Finley Peter Dunne first experimented with using Irish dialect
in an editorial in December 1892, and the first of what he
called the "Mr. Dooley" essays appeared soon after, with
the first recognized column appearing in October 1893.6 The
column didn't reach a national audience until 1898, when
he began discussing national affairs in the Chicago Journal—specifically
the war with Spain—rather than Chicago politics. 7
Outcault's first Yellow Kid cartoons feature slum dialect
as an aside, but it soon crept into signs, advertisements,
and onto the Kid's shirt, which became his method for communicating
with the audience. With the addition of Townsend and Rudolph Block in 1896-97, more room was made for Irish dialect dialogues. The dialect was identified with the Irish
population through the name of the comic (Hogan's Alley),
the names of the characters, such as Mickey Dugan (the Yellow
Kid's official name starting in 1896), Snag McFarlin (May
19, 1895), Chimmey McManus and Elizabeth Clinchy (November
24, 1895), and location indicators, such as O'Reilly's Pond (September 22, 1895), and advertisements of local
services (Madame Rooney Stylish Washing and Ironing, Murphy's Saloon, Madam Flynn Modes). At times Outcault appears
to make the dialect as much about lack of education in the
slums as portraying a specific dialect ("Ambulantz," for
example, in "First Championship Game of the Hogan's Alley Baseball Team."). The Yellow Kid was adapting
the tradition of the ethnic act, complete with working-class
or Irish dialect—and improvisations upon dialect.
From Mr. Dooley's column, "Molly's Vaudeville Show":
"They'se another scandal in th' Donahue family," said Mr. Dooley.
"What about?" asked Mr. McKenna, eagerly.
"Molly give a vowdyvill," replied Mr. Dooley.
"I tol' ye twict she give a v'riety show," said Mr. Dooley angrily. "Now d'ye know? She's been th' leader iv society so long in th' sixth wa-ard that she was not to be downed be th' Hogans. They give a progressive spoil-five par-rty an' she med up her mind she'd toss thim over th' gashouse--socially, I mane--be havin' a v'riety show. An' she done it. . . .
—Fanning, Charles, ed. Mr. Dooley and the Chicago Irish: An Anthology. New York: Arno Press, 1976. 216-217.
View large images to read Townsend's text:
"A Merry X-Mas in McFadden's Flats."
"McFadden's Row of Flats."
1 Jones, Gavin. Strange Talk: The Politics of Dialect Literature in Gilded Age America. Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, 1999. 137.
2 Jones 139.
3 Jones 143.
4 Jones 146.
5 Jones 143-144.
6 Ellis, Elmer. Mr. Dooley's America: A Life of Finley Peter Dunne. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1941. 60, 78.
7 Ellis 110, 113.