Identity in E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime Essay example

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Identity in E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime

Written almost thirty years ago, describing an age far removed from its own, E.L. Doctorow's novel Ragtime nevertheless explores issues of identity and ethnicity that still face America in spite of its lofty ideals of individualism and diversity. It displays for the reader a rich and hypnotic portrayal of the soul of immigrant America, yet still fails to avoid ethnic bias in certain subtle ways. Whether the lapses into feelings of cultural superiority originate from the purposeful portrayal of the characters Doctorow created or without the author's conscious prior awareness, a careful reading of the text will reveal them. In this way, these same assumptions and prejudices test our
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There were no immigrants" (Doctorow 4). What follows quickly after is the voice of truth and reason in the text, expressed through the fictional re-representation of the anarchist Emma Goldman, who shows white culture that "Apparently there were Negroes. There were immigrants" (Doctorow 5).

Despite this laudable cultural advancement, the author's meaning of the term "immigrant" takes place within a very limited context. Asians and indigenous peoples are not "invited" in Ragtime; while black America is given a voice through the stubborn and noble Coalhouse and the eloquent Booker T. Washington, and the Eastern European immigrant community is given a rich and touching voice through "Tateh" and his daughter, Doctorow never ventured far enough along to include Asians in his spectrum of ethnic narrative. Just like the "Oriental silk cushions" that made Houdini feel so trapped in Father's home, they are deprived of a true voice.

Great lengths are taken by Doctorow to empathize with the Eastern European immigrant community. With great emotion, he describes Father's impression of an immigrant ship, decidedly of a European identity because of the head shawls that the women wore (Doctorow 14). With an emotion that belies the author's role as "third-person omniscient," he argues eloquently against this ethnic group being wrongly stigmatized as being lost within "moral
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