Emperor Hadrian in Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian and E.L. Doctorow's Everyman figure of Coalhouse Walker, Jr. in Ragtime

Emperor Hadrian in Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian and E.L. Doctorow's Everyman figure of Coalhouse Walker, Jr. in Ragtime

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Emperor Hadrian in Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian and E.L. Doctorow's Everyman figure of Coalhouse Walker, Jr. in Ragtime



As Marguerite Yourcenar states in Memoirs of Hadrian, “. . . there is always a day where Atlas ceases to support the weight of the heavens, and his revolt shakes the earth.” (114) When Coalhouse Walker strides knowingly, even willingly, into his death, he is more powerful at that moment than he has been at any other point in his crusade. Because he has no regard for death or for the effect of his decision upon the rest of the world, his chosen fate sends a resounding reaction through all who witness his end. And what might drive a man to abandon his life so freely? Love and death. Inextricably meshed in both Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar and E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime, these timeless states profoundly change the outlooks of Emperor Hadrian and Coalhouse Walker Jr. Despite being separated by centuries, both men go to extreme lengths for their perception of love, but when death intervenes they have curiously opposite reactions.

Hadrian is Emperor of the vast Roman Empire, and when he first comes into power he is afire with new ideas of beautification and improvements for all the provinces of the Empire, whether the people of said provinces wanted to be improved or not. He is secure enough in himself to consider himself, while not a god, something like a lieutenant, “seconding the deity in his effort to give form and order to a world, to develop and multiply its convolutions, extensions, and complexities.” (Yourcenar, 144) After many personal triumphs, he still refuses the accolades that previous Emperor’s have felt were rightfully theirs, preferring to let his people and his ...


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...ife. This concept is totally foreign to Coalhouse Walker Jr. who, only after achieving the love that he sought and then losing it so quickly and so inhumanely, gains almost godlike power over the people of the city, inspiring fear and no little awe for the man who would go to such lengths over an automobile and some inconsequential (to them) black woman who wasn’t even his wife.

Death and love: inseparable through the course of time, transcending the ages– both Emperor Hadrian and Coalhouse Walker Jr. face them, and while one gains conviction and a purpose, even if that purpose is ultimately his own death, the other declines, never seeing that the death of his love could possibly serve a purpose other than simple grief and mourning, never understanding that, with time and action, “the future [could] once more [hold] the hope of the past.” (Yourcenar, 176)

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