Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

Essay by nati_frUniversity, Bachelor'sA-, March 2008

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Many of the subplots from the steelworkers' strikes through the description of the tenement life in New York tie into Emma Goldman's quote. The entire quote carries the theme of the book so well as to offer an alternative to the existence of humans around the turn of the century. In almost every story and character, we find suffering and inequality among the people. This paper describes a handful of examples relating to Emma Goldman's reference to the human tragedy of the era of industrialization.

E.L. Doctorow's novel is set in the New York area in the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Each of the several story lines involves to some extent a bourgeois family in New Rochelle, a famous suburb on Long Island, one of the five boroughs of New York City. The book itself contains some of the most famous personalities of the turn of the century.

Such famous people as Harry Houdini, Sigmund Freud, Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Mexican revolutionaries Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa, Robber Barons Henry Ford and J.P. Morgan, and many others who are given a mention in the book.

The historical choice for the backdrop to the book suits Goldman's phrase well. The turn of the 20th century was a prime example of the have and have-nots. For example, on page 57 Emma Goldman gives Evelyn a speech about the sex trade and its decedent nature. She goes as far as calling Evelyn a prostitute because "like all whores, you value property and money." Goldman accuses Evelyn of marrying for money, thus becoming another product of capitalism and its preoccupation with wealth. Emma Goldman's character, an anarchist, portrays the awakening of Evelyn and the realization that so many suffer to make the United States a superpower. Not...