Correspondence of Characters in Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow

A great number of books depict the United States and its citizens in the first half of the 20th century the time, when attitudes, morals, beliefs and points of view were changing rapidly. However, E. L. Doctorows novel entitled Ragtime stands above them all due to its unique blend of historical and fictional figures and events that played a key role in American history. Ragtime opens up with the story of an upper-middle class family that consists of Father, Mother, their child, Grandfather and Mothers Younger Brother and live in New Rochelle. Doctorow interweaves the stories of Coalhouses and Tatehs families with it in order to demonstrate how the lives of all characters of the story change after their encounters with the others and how they influence one another. The way the character of Mother connects and corresponds with the ones of Father, Sarah and Coalhouse Walker Jr. throughout the novel most explicitly contributes to the readers appreciation of Ragtime as a deeply psychological work of art that stands for such important values as family, respect and equality.

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At the beginning of the novel, the characters of Mother and Father correspond to one another in the way they perform gender roles prescribed to them by male-dominant society. At the beginning of Ragtime, Mother feels comfortable in her role of a loving wife, mother and daughter, whose duty is taking care of the needs of her husband, young son and father. They live in the house Father built in 1902 that demonstrate his dominance in their family. For Mother, Father is an important man and a familys breadwinner, without whom she could not probably survive. Father plays a role of a strict father and husband, who gently kisses his wife on cheek and shakes his sons hand before leaving to the Arctic. By doing so, Father demonstrates no love or passion, but bold sense of duty. Moreover, sexual life of the couple is nothing, but duty for them. Mother and Father never talk about it. The narrator writes, as the days passed and the time for Father’s departure approached, he waited for the mute sign that he might visit her bed. He knew that to make an overture of his own was to threaten the occasion. Therefore, for Father and mother, sex is not an action of passion or love, but a duty they have to perform as a husband and a wife. In fact, this attitude to their sexual life makes none of them happy or satisfied. The narrator writes that Mother thought yet I know these are the happy years. And ahead of us are only great disasters while having sex with her husband. Both Father and Mother lie to themselves and to one another that they are happy in their strict gender roles. Thus, at this moment in the novel, both Father and Mother are similar in the way they feel duty to live according to gender roles of the 19th century.

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However, the characters of Mother and Father become contrast as the story goes because of Fathers lack of desire to change and accommodate to transforming society. At the beginning of the century, the change is unavoidable, and an individuals survival depends on how well he or she accepts these changes. Mothers life changes when Father leaves for the Arctic. During his absence, the woman takes over the family business and becomes more self-confident. A Mother finds the tasks of Fathers business not that hard as he described them to her. As a result, the woman changes her attitude to him and does not view him as the one, without whom she could not survive. When Father arrives home, he discovers that his wife leads business better than he did and that she even expanded their companys sales. He discovers that she became an independent personality, however, considers all the changes in his wife to be Gods punishments for his adultery. The distance between the two grows, and they become contrast. However, Mother finds the other people to whom her views correspond Sarah, Coalhouse and their child

The character of Mother also corresponds to the one of Sarah as they both are mothers, who take care of their children by themselves. At the moment of her life before Fathers return, Mother feels the loneliest and most distant from her husband and encounters a young black woman, Sarah, and her child and invites them to live in her house. The author writes that she felt alone in her modern awning home at the top of the hill on fashionable Broadview Avenue with only her small son and her ancient father and deserted by the race of males. Mothers pain and problems somehow corresponds with the ones of the young woman. In Sarah, she sees herself a mother, who is left by her man and who has to take responsibility for her child solely. She is shocked that a policemen wanted to present charges against Sarah, a mother, who was forced to leave her child under the pressure of circumstances. Mother invites Sarah and her child to live in her house and keeps them there after her husbands return. Mother also tries to build closer relationship between Sarah and her child. Thus, Mother helps Sarah as she feels connected to her and her child as a mother.

The characters of Mother and Coalhouse also corresponds in their attitude to family and position within society. For both of them a family is the thing of great importance. Mother understands Coalhouses situation and the reason why it is that important to him and Sarah to make a true family. That is why she allows Coalhouse visit their house even when Sarah refuses to see him at the beginning. Father expresses his racist attitudes towards Coalhouse Walker Jr., viewing the visitor as the one who didn’t know he was a Negro only because he did not act or talk like a colored man and recognizing him as a man, who possesses certain dangers. Nevertheless, mother insists on the necessity of Coalhouses visits. Mother also likes Coalhouses sense of devotion and patience with which she makes Sarah agree to marry him. In fact, her attitude towards the visitor is also positive, as Coalhouses situation represents her own one in a certain way. As a woman, Mother is treated as a second-class citizen only because of her gender; Coalhouse also suffers from unequal treatment, but because of his race.

The way the character of Mother connects and corresponds with the ones of Father, Sarah and Coalhouse contributes to the readers appreciation of Doctorows novel as a deeply psychological work of art that points out the importance of such important values as family, respect and equality. Mother and Father are alike only at the beginning of the novel, when they perform gender roles of Victorian era. However, as Mother becomes empowered and independent personality that gets used to changing world of the 20th century, she becomes correspondent with the characters of Coalhouse and Sarah. In them, she sees a reflection of her loneliness, victimization and love for family. Decline in Mothers relationship with Father represents the need of an individual to leave old values to the new ones that are represented by Coalhouse.

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