Free «Ragtime» Essay Paper


Ragtime is a novel by E.L Doctorow. The story begins in 1902 at the house of an upper class nuclear family consisting of father, mother, and a little boy. They live in a lovely neighborhood in the town of New Rochelle in New York. The nature of the relationships in this novel shows an intriguing element of how people correspond within a society. The mother’s younger brother from the upper class falls in love with Evelyn Nesbit, an upper class beauty whose husband has been sent to prison having been charged with the murder of Nesbit's ex-husband.

On the lower East Side of the town, there lives an immigrant family consisting of Tateh, Mameh, and a little girl. Their standard of living is completely opposite to the other family since they live in utter poverty. Due the nature of her job, Evelyn Nesbit visits the lower side quite often. After some time, she becomes enchanted with the little girl, so that her visits to the poor neighborhood become regular. After some time the little girl falls ill, and Evelyn is forced to care for her. The mother’s younger brother (they are both not named) gets curious over what Nesbit does in the poor neighborhood so often, and he begins following her without her knowing that. What follows is a series of events that create unprecedented situations for all the characters involved.

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We meet Emma Goldman in Chapter 8 when Nesbit, Tateh, and little girl attend a socialist meeting where Emma Goldman is the featured speaker. As it appears, Emma and Nesbit know each other very well, when during her address, Emma accuses Nesbit of using her feminine sexuality to gain prominence in a capitalist society. She accuses her of being a creature of capitalism and implies that she lacks a sense of ethical principles by being corrupt and hypocritical. Although the aspect of correspondences occurs throughout the novel, it can be seen implicitly when Goldman tells Nesbit: “But there are correspondences, you see, our lives correspond, our spirits touch each other like notes in harmony, and in the total human fate we are sisters” (pp. 60-61 in Modern Library Edition). She tries to imply that the society they live in is driven by correspondences among each other. I shall consider how Evelyn Nesbit corresponds with the other characters in the novel.

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Evelyn Nesbit is the best example of how the relationships are based on correspondences in that society. With her husband in prison and her not belonging to a particular family in either side of the social classes, she is best situated to interact with many people in the novel. Her rich status allows her to go wherever she wishes, and her position allows her to interact with people of diverse ages, statuses, and personalities. The first major correspondence she acquires is the one with the little girl. She got enchanted with her as soon as she saw her while exploring the city. When she first met the girl, a piece of clothesline was attached to her wrist. It connected her to the waist of an old man called Tateh, which could be the reason why she captured Evelyn’s attention at the very beginning. Nesbit's enchantment with the girl forced her to associate with them more in order to get as much information about her as possible.

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She later acquires a sense of correspondence with the old man. When she inquiries from him why he had attached himself with the girl with a clothesline, he explains that in that neighborhood, children normally are stolen from their parents and are later sold as slaves. Her attachment to the old man, Tateh, became evident when she demanded to know where the parents of the little girl were. Tateh started giving an account of his circumstances while explaining to Nesbit that he was the father of the little girl. He explained how he chased away her mother when she started prostitution in order to earn money. Their story was so sentimental to Nesbit that she soon began getting more associated with them. Being a silhouette artist, Tateh produced one for Evelyn Nesbit and she started paying them visits more often by having several silhouettes rendered.

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As a public figure, the press were monitoring her every move and soon they started accusing her of having affairs with many men. However, she cared less since her focus had already been directed to the girl and her father. Nevertheless, she recognized that the press would complicate matters if they discovered something about her newfound company. Therefore, she kept visiting the girl at the lower East Side secretly. One day when she could not find the little girl and her father at their usual corner, Evelyn panicked since she sensed that something was wrong. After visiting their tenement home, she discovered that her little friend had become ill. Despite her social class and busy schedule, she left everything and began taking care of the girl. She could imagine how difficult it would be if she left Tateh to look after his little girl alone. She could also understand his situation of living without a spouse, since her own husband had also been away in prison.

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Taking care of the little gave her the motherly instincts that she had always desired. As a public figure with a husband in prison, she had no opportunity for raising a family. She was already being accused of having affairs with many men and she knew that in order to have a child of her own, she had to wait for her husband's release. Therefore, taking care of the little girl gave her an opportunity to express the motherly passion and love that she had always had. In the process, she got so infatuated with the girl that she even considered kidnapping her.

At the same time, mother's younger brother was still following her secretly and he could see how fond she was growing of the little girl. Seeing how she treated the little girl, his secret love to her began fueling more and more, but he still did not have any idea of how to approach her. His opportunity presented itself during Nesbit's confrontation with Emma Goldman after the socialist meeting. Nesbit did not like the way Goldman was lecturing her about using her sexuality to gain prominence, or the way she was insisting on the nature of correspondences within the society. Her strong disapproval of Nesbit's behavior was evident when she said: "...because like all whores you value propriety. You are a creature of capitalism, the ethics of which are so totally corrupt and hypocritical that your beauty is no more than the beauty of gold, which is to say false and cold and useless". Mother's younger brother was watching as all this has been unfolding. He identified himself in the midst of this confrontation and was lucky since he got her attention. Meanwhile, Tateh had decided to disappear with her daughter, which Nesbit discovered later on. The only person who could assist Evelyn in finding them was mother's younger brother and in the process, she corresponded with him in a manner that proved to be fulfilling.

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