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Reports & Essays: Literature - Novels

"AND""OR"

Ragtime
By E. L. Doctorow "Ragtime" is a book about extremes. The writer E.L. Doctorow uses an individual typical American family and entwines this family with strange events. By doing this weaving, Doctorow emphasizes the extremes of the lives of the other people that become involved with this family. With this comparison between the ordinary family and the extraordinary others we notice the changes brought around in society and history during this period of Ragtime. So many changes have occurred during this time in the early 19th Century and Ragtime opens up this period for us by bringing together many historical facts as it affects each family. E.L. Doctorow emphasizes the atypical family but not even giving them formal names, calling them only father, mother, boy, younger brother. But he names those who were important to the History of time by repeatedly bringing them back into the story. Men and women famous for their position and notoriety enhance the story and encourage the history. The book relates an understanding of people like J.P. Morgan, Harry Houdini, Emma Goldman, Emiliano Zapata, Coalhouse Walker Jr., and Evelyn Nesbit. Here in this book we read about a time in history when class distinction is evident "Dull gray was for Jews, red for swarthy Italians, blue for the thrifty Germans. black for Africans, green for the Irishmen, and yellow for the cat-clean Chinamen." There were the rich and the very poor but it was such a time of change that classes were intermingling as progress was made by invention or social thinking. Doctorow emphasizes this in many ways but especially in this simple statement "The consumption of food was a sacrament of success. A man who carried a great stomach before him was thought to be in his prime. There after fashion would go the other way and only poor people would be stout." Soon many changes were taking place in Industry, as the age of the assembly line grows with Ford's success. The people themselves question their progress. The poor refuse to be exploited by the few rich. Women are extending their rights as are the Jews and the blacks. Opportunity is there far all of them. We can see this as we watch a simple Jewish immigrant with great talent and ambition rise himself up to a film director and respected man. At first denying his heritage and in the end he realizes his success was accomplished and he was accepted, Jewish or not. The film industry was now a major part of the history of Ragtime. The book also makes the work of Henry Ford a moment of change. His genius in inventing the assembly line changes the attitude of one person towards another, "the interchangeability of parts is a rule of nature. ---the rules of nature operate so that our similarity." So (p 153) here history is made to describe the acceptance of races and tolerance of the differences we may or my not have. The book also talks about revolutions. The revolution of Zapata in Mexico, of Goldman for oppression and the rise of the blacks in society that at first was so hard and unaccepting. The family so involved in many ways with each revolution, becomes a defender to the blacks. By accident and strong will they acknowledge a black women and her baby and become a family to them. It is the strongest statement in the book. They defend and help this black revolution by being so involved but never lose their status as rich white people. Statements are made through violence and concern that affect not only Coalhouse Walker Jr., but the attitudes of the community affected by what has been done to him. He dies a martyr, but leaves a strong truth about the rights of black people. The book shows us how combining industrial advancement, foresight and acceptance, has brought about a new view of tolerance. Prejudice was less prevalent and individual effort and vision were being emphasized.. This book had led us through the years of change in the 19th century. It discussed progress in society as a result of the film industry, the assembly line and the acceptance of people of different races. It did so while inviting us to sample Freud and his sexual revolutionary thinking, Houdini and Morgan with their revolutionary ideas on life and reincarnation and even referring to Europe and Mexico and the changes there. The time of " Ragtime" is a fast time; a great time.

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