Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

827 Words2 Pages

Sacrificing an Identity

In the novel Ragtime, many aspects of the American society are explored. The reader gets an understanding of the history and hardships of different social classes, races, and cultures during the last century. A persistent theme established is the existence of the American dream. Doctorow expresses his fascination of the social mobility since it includes the impoverished and underprivileged. However, he highlights that when attempting to reach success, one is required to make sacrifices, negotiating his morality and identity. Tateh and Coalhouse are crucial examples of how the demands, prejudices, and opportunities of the American society can change a man’s mentality.

During his escalation from poverty to high-class, Tateh is forced to give up his social beliefs and identity, believing it necessary in order to attain a better life for himself and his daughter. Their life began as many European immigrants did, living in public dwellings. Similar to many living in poverty and being a socialist, Tateh criticizes the upper and Bourgeois class in a negative spotlight, “his heart...outraged" when he “looked at the palaces” (Ragtime 15). These beliefs lead him to become part of a strike in Massachusetts. It is obvious to the reader that Tateh is thrilled with the idea of being shot to death rather than starving to death. Tateh's life , however, is ironic since he loathes the wealthy yet he yearns to achieve such fortune.

Another point in the novel, he shows aloofness to Americans which is seen with the relationship with Evelyn Nesbitt. One morning, Evelyn shows up at his door, and he hesitantly “welcomes” her in. In fact, "Tateh was scandalized by her visit” that in “great agitation he smoked a cigarette, in th...

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...triumph is the focus of all the American dreams as illustrated by Doctorow. Tateh and Coalhouse are key examples of how the American society’s demands, prejudices, and opportunities can transform a man’s mentality. Doctorow highlights his concerns for American capitalism, and his overwhelming disdain for the stress people put on money and power. It is the universal being of capitalism that he is cautious off, not only for the social problems it creates, but also for the lust it thrives on. The financial success of Coalhouse causes him to be unaware of the social issues affecting his race. Thus, it is capitalism that causes Walker to be apathetic to the plight of his people. Doctorow only puts the allure of wealth in a negative light and highlights the carelessness that humans exhibit while attempting to attain the typical American dream of wealth and success

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