At the early 20th century before the World War I, American society was undergoing a cultural revolution. People were constantly looking for their identity and the meaning of life in these changes. Mingling the historical reality with fiction, Doctorow’s Ragtime perfectly grasps the struggles of Americans with different social classes. People in the novel either welcome the changes and complete the transformation or hang on to the old social norms and become deserted by society. Mother, one character from an upper-class family living in New Rochelle, belongs to the former and experiences many changes throughout the story as a wife and simply as a woman.
The most significant change Mother undergoes is her awareness of her sexuality. From a rather shy and conservative wife, Mother becomes a woman who fulfills her sexual desires in spite of the union with a Jewish man. In the beginning, Mother would “[lower] her eyes” even just because Houdini smiled at her (Doctorow 10; ch.1). Mother is obviously not happy with the marriage with Father, especially discontented with their sex life. It seems ridiculous that Houdini’s visit could “[interrupt] Mother and Father’s coitus,” but it is reasonable that Mother is sexually aroused by Houdini and loses interest in Father (Doctorow 11; ch.2). Though unhappy about the marriage, Mother still meets her wifely duties. On the night before Father’s departure, they have sex. Mother is certainly not enjoying it for she “[shuts] her eyes and [holds] her hands over her ears” and she is thinking something else (Doctorow 12; ch.2). Mother gradually finds herself during Father’s absence. She “[beams]” and the marriage “[seems] to flourish” (Doctorow 12; ch.2). When Father...
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...sion maker in the family affairs, and she barely has temper. But later on, she becomes a rather round character. She would become “outraged” just because Coalhouse enters the house without her permission (Doctorow 156; ch.21). She even tries to influence Father’s decision. When Father threatens Coalhouse’s unpleasant visits by calling the police, Mother “[lays] her hand on his arm” (Doctorow 157; ch.21).
From a traditional housewife in a white middle-class family, Mother has become a strong woman with independent minds. Her character becomes vivid step by step. Mother and Father represent an ordinary family in society. If their lives can change so much, what about millions of others? Their changes indicate the upcoming revolution taking place in this world.
Doctorow, E.L. Ragtime. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2007. Print.
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