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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
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

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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