Billy Bathegate by EL Doctorow Essay

Billy Bathegate by EL Doctorow Essay

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Billy Bathegate by EL Doctorow

Billy Bathgate is an important American novel in it’s portrayal of one young man’s evolution from boyhood to maturity. The novel is about a fifteen year old boy that gets taken under the wing of Dutch Schultz, a 1930’s gangster trying to keep a hold of his diminishing empire. As the novel unfolds, so does the rising maturity of the tough young man introduced to us as Billy Bathgate. Billy finds himself in situations that most of us never see in our whole life. In difference to the reactions that most people would have in these situations, Billy learns from them in order to better his role in the crime family. It is for these reasons that the young fifteen year old boy quickly develops into a man.

Author Overview

The novel was written in 1989 by a contemporaneous author named E. L. Doctorow. Doctorow was born in 1931 and fantasized about the 1930’s crime life as a child. He is an American novelist, short story writer, editor, essayist, as well as a dramatist. His works include Big as Life, The Book of Daniel, Ragtime, Loon Lake, World’s Fair, , Lives of the Poets: Six Stories and a Novella, a play entitled Drinks Before Dinner and of course his most recent work Billy Bathgate. Billy Bathgate is Doctorow’s most famous piece of literature. In fact, the book grasped so much attention that it was later made into a movie with an all star cast including Bruce Willis, Dustin Hoffman and Nicole Kidman. Although the film left out a lot of detail, as so many movies based on novels tend to do, it was interesting to see the elaborate detail given to the clothing, attitude, and backdrop that so accurately reflect the inner city Bronx in the 1930’s. Doctorow’s explicit, graphic detail show his almost fascination with crime and murder. He almost glamorizes the life of crime in Billy Bathgate.

Critical Analisys

Although Billy Bathgate was written quite recently, there is an influx of critical opinion reflecting the admiration of Doctorow’s artistry in literature. "Critics
marveled at Doctorow’s vivid description of New York City in the 1930’s and of the horrific murders committed by Dutch and his gang."(CLC volume 65 Author Overview) "Billy Bathgate is intended as pure myth, a sort of Robin Hood for grown-ups. Other novels may be more psychologically subtle or emotionally resonant. But few of those ...

... middle of paper ...

...sting novel that I have ever had the pleasure of reading. It is one of those novels that you just can not put down if you try. Billy Bathgate is a vital American novel in it’s portrayal of a boy’s journey to become a man.


Bemrose, John. "Growing Up in Gangland." in Maclean’s Magazine. March 1989: 58-9. Vol. 102, No 12

Clifford, Andrew. "True-ish Crime Stories." in The Listener. September 1989: p.29.
vol. 122, no. 3131.

Eder, Richard. "Siege Perilous in the Court of Dutch Schultz." in Los Angeles Times Book
Review. March 1989. p. 3.

Kazin, Alfred. "Huck in the Bronx." in The New Republic. March 1989. Pp.40-2.

Leonard, John. "Bye Bye Billy." in The Nation. April 1989. pp. 40-2. Vol. 200 no. 12

Pease, Donald E. "Billy Bathgate- a Review" America. May 1989. P. 458-59

Rubin, Merle. "Bathgate: Technique Surpasses Tale." The Christian Science Monitor. March 1989. p. 13

Rushdie, Salman. "Billy the Streetwise Kid." The Observer. September 1989. P.51

Tonkin, Boyd. "A Round Table Story." New Statesman & Society. September 1989. P. 37

Tyler, Anne. "An American Boy in Gangland." The New York Times Book Review. February 1989. P. 1, 46

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