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  • Date Submitted: 11/07/2010 01:20 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 68 
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Title: Ragtime
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,
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.

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