Author: E.L. Doctorow
Ragtime is centered around several very different people, from rich to poor and
powerful to meager, in the U.S. in the in the time from 1902 to the entry of America into
World War I. Because of a past affair, Evelyn Nesbit’s crazed millionaire husband kills
world-famous architect Stanford White, and is then incarcerated in a mental institution for
the deed. Evelyn then cares for a poor Jewish street artist and his daughter until he leaves
New York City. Tateh, the artist, eventually sells a flip book full of continuous motion
pictures to the Franklin Novelty Company and this launches a movie directorial career for
him. Father goes to the North Pole on the third expedition of Robert Peary, but he returns
a changed man. Mother’s Younger Brother has a brief fling with Evelyn Nesbit, but she
then leaves him and runs off with a ragtime dancer. Mother’s Younger Brother works
on designing weapons for the Army for a time, but then becomes part of a sort of vigilante
group of black people led by Coalhouse Walker, a pianist from Harlem who is a victim of
a racial crime against him, which is why he formed the group. This group firebombs two
fire stations and takes over the library of the great financier J.P. Morgan. His colleagues
are allowed to go free, but Coalhouse Walker is shot upon his surrender. By this time,
... created a government that has withstood the test of time and interest groups. As we near the end of the 20 th ... their precious time. When people join a group they do not see that group as a lobbying group. They might view other groups like that ... issue, they cannot find the time. This is where interest groups come in. By joining a group they get the satisfaction of feeling ...
Mother and Father have moved to Atlantic City where they meet Tateh, who has made a
large sum of money making preparedness films. In 1915, Father is aboard the Lusitania
when it is sunk by the Germans, Father is among those killed. Mother and Tateh then fall
in love, marry, and move to California where they live together happily ever after.
Themes: Change is a major theme in Ragtime, how people can change, how lives are forever altered, and how this is all intertwined with the major events and people of this time
is the main theme supplied by E.L. Doctorow.
Point of View: Though it first seems to be first person because the main characters early in the novel are simply called Mother, Father, and Mother’s Younger Brother, the point of view is third person narrative.
Characters/types: Mother, Father, Mother’s Younger Brother, Evelyn Nesbit, Tateh,
Coalhouse Walker Jr. are all protagonists in their own right. But at times, such as when Coalhouse Walker Jr. takes over the J.P. Morgan library, they can also be considered antagonists.
Figurative Language/literary devices:
Allusion: E.L. Doctorow makes allusions to actual people, places, and events throughout the novel, such as Henry Ford, J.P. Morgan, Emma Goldman, and Freud’s visit to the United States.
External Conflict: When textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts strike and the militia is called in to restore order, fighting breaks out.
Foreshadowing: When Coalhouse Walker decides to surrender, he says that his fate was
sealed when his fiancé was killed. This can also be considered a flashback.
Internal Conflict: Coalhouse Walker is trying to decide whether or not to surrender when some of his demands are met. He reasons that he will either die in the library when the dynamite is exploded or he will die when he surrenders because he has aroused intense hatred among the NY City authorities. He decides to go peacefully.
1. Which element was the most important to the development of the novel? Explain why. The element of perpetual change, among the characters themselves and their lives, was the most important to the development of the novel. The intertwining of the characters’ lives with historical events and peoples is what set about the change a kept it moving throughout the novel. For example, Father travels with Robert Peary to the North Pole and when he returns, he and Mother seem to be worlds apart.
... influential people in my life were my parents. My mother and my father are very different. From the way they grew up ... . The weather outside was 10 or 20 below. So, they decided to sleeping in the barn was there only option. After ... with it ever again. After hearing the stories my mother and my father have preached to me, I think I had it ...
2. Identify the elements of plot below. Justify your answer.
A. initial incident: Coalhouse Walker Jr. is stopped in front of a fire station by the
white firefighters who then refuse to let him pass without paying a toll, when
Coalhouse refuses, they defecate his car and leave it in a pond.
B. climax: After firebombing two firehouses, Coalhouse and his gang take over the
library of J.P. Morgan and threaten to blow it up unless their conditions are met.
3. Give an example of conflict. Identify the type of conflict and how it is/ why it is not
resolved. Coalhouse Walker is trying to decide whether or not he should surrender
when his conditions are met. His group says that he should stay in the library and blow
it up if anybody tries to enter. Coalhouse decides to set his group go free while he
surrenders himself to the police. It is resolved when Coalhouse surrenders and the
police and the militia kill him.
4. Give an example of irony from the novel. Identify the type and explain how or why
it is ironic. It is ironic that a poor, Yiddish-speaking street artist such as Tateh has
become very rich doing something that he used to do just for survival. It is also ironic
that he was a member of the socialist party, but then seemingly disposed of this ideology
once he became rich through capitalism.
5. Identify a flashback from the novel and explain the effect of the use of this device.
When Evelyn is preparing her testimony for her husband’s trial, she remembers how
Harry K. Thaw, her husband, beat her into submission in Austria so as to punish her for
being Stanford White’s mistress.
6. Give an example of foreshadowing from the novel. Explain the effect of the use of
this device. When deciding whether or not to surrender to the police, Coalhouse
prophesies that he will die in the library or when he surrenders to the police. The effect
is that the reader now feels that Coalhouse should go peacefully and without incident.
... .1 - Identify the main types of state and independent schools 1.2 - Describe the characteristics of the different types of school in ... specialist schools. Specialist schools usually take children with particular types of special needs. The majority of a schools funding ... independent research and create a booklet to describe the different types of school within the educational system. This must include ...
7. From what point of view is the story told? What effect does this point of view
have on the reader? The story is told from the third person narrative point of view.
Without the narrative portion, it would be very difficult for the novel to contain such
widely varying stories and characters as from a poor Jewish street artist to a great and
powerful financier such as J.P. Morgan.
8. Describe the setting of the novel. The novel is set in turn-of-the-century New York
City and surrounding areas such as New Rochelle.
9. Identify two major characters from the novel. For each character: A. Identify the
type. B. Give three quotes, with page numbers, which illustrates the character.
Character One: Evelyn Nesbit.
B. “I will stay with the child while you go to work.” (41)
“Oh, I hate to cry…Crying makes me ugly.” (48)
“It occurred to Evelyn one day that Harry might indeed love her. She was
Character Two: Father.
B. “Father was an amateur explorer of considerable reputation.” (8)
“He was a burly man with strong appetites, but he appreciated his wife’s reluctance
to assume the indelicate attitudes that answered to his needs.” (10)
“When a property owner in this city walks into court with a Negro, a charge like
this is usually dismissed.” (153)
10. Give a one sentence statement of theme for the novel.
The change in the character’s lives and in themselves as influenced by the historical
events around them and the people they interact with is the theme of this novel.
11. Identify one symbol from the novel and explain the symbolism. When Freud visited
America, he was very displeased with what he experienced and called America a
gigantic mistake. This symbolizes the somewhat rancorous attitude that many outsiders
had towards the still young and developing nation, they symbolized America’s growing
12. Identify one allusion from the novel and explain the allusion.
E.L. Doctorow constantly alluded to events that actually happened in history and
... his own character. As a result, Holden develops a “phony stigma” that he uses to identify various animosities ... everyone and everything around him. Consequently, his character has gone through a significant change because of ... , J.D. Catcher in the Rye. New York City, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 1951. Book. ... to be extremely judgmental of people. He views everyone in a negative manner and considers them ...
intertwined these events with the fictional characters. For example, Doctorow alludes
to the beginning of the Henry Ford assembly lines and to J.P. Morgan’s vast wealth and
personal eccentricities that came along with it, such as his want to build his own
pyramid in Egypt along with the other pharaohs.
13. Identify six different types of figurative language or literary devices used in the
novel. For each type: A. Identify type. B. Give a quote with page number. C.
Explain the effect.
1. A. Allusion.
B. “A letter had arrived from the Republican Inaugural Committee inquiring if the firm would care to bid on the decoration and fireworks contract for the inauguration parade and ball the following January, when Mr. Taft was expected
to succeed Mr. Roosevelt.” (57)
C. This shows what kind of atmosphere the novel takes place in, the time period, etc.
2. A. External Conflict.
B. “The grenade that was thrown, after the shouted warning by Younger Brother, had
ripped up the sidewalk and left an enormous crater in the street in front of the
Library gates.” (227)
C. This showed that Coalhouse and his gang would not surrender without the
conditions set forth being met.
3. A. Flashback.
B. “Her husband habitually whipped her.” (5)
C. This shows how controlling of a husband and how loveless the marriage between
Evelyn and Harry K. Thaw was.
4. A. Foreshadowing.
B. “As for my execution, he said, my death was determined the moment Sarah died.”
C. This shows Coalhouse’s acceptance of the situation that lay before him, he knew
that he would die either way, so he decided to go peacefully, that is until he
stepped outside and was immediately shot numerous times by the police and
5. A. Irony.
B. “I made them for under five hundred dollars and each has brought ten thousand
dollars in receipt.”
C. This shows Tateh’s climb up from the poverty filled tenements of New York City
... bridges are aesthetic, light, and strong. They are the longest type of bridge spanning from two thousand feet to seven thousand ... different types of bridges are similar in structure, but not in architecture ... circle structures with abutments at each end. There are different types of arch bridges such as Roman, Baroque, and Renaissance. These ...
to the riches of Atlantic City by getting rich off of something that he used to have
to do just to stay alive.
6. A. Symbolism.
B. “At palaces in New York and Chicago people gave poverty balls. Guests were
dressed in rags and ate from tin plates and drank from chipped mugs…Ballrooms
were decorated to look like mines…Guests smoked cigar butts offered to them on
silver trays…They dined and danced while hanging carcasses of bloody beef trailed
around the walls on moving pulleys. Entrails spilled on the floor. The proceeds
were for charity.” (34-35)
C. This symbolized the ignorant view of the poor that the rich had, many thought it
glamorous to be poor, insofar as not having a care in the world.