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Literature Study GuidesRagtimePart 1 Chapter 2 Summary

Ragtime | Study Guide

E. L. Doctorow

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Ragtime | Part 1, Chapter 2 | Summary



Houdini's visit interrupts Father and Mother's scheduled lovemaking, which leaves Father feeling frustrated. He is about to leave on an Arctic expedition with the explorer Peary. Mother doesn't seem bothered; "The marriage seemed to flourish on Father's extended absences." The next morning the family takes Father to the train station, and the following day Father is on the Roosevelt with Peary. Aboard their ship they pass a large vessel packed with incoming immigrants, which fills Father with inexplicable despair.


Tensions rise in this chapter. Mother and Father's interrupted lovemaking suggests an abrupt and unexpected end to bliss. However Mother doesn't even enjoy sex, suggesting perhaps the bliss is as imaginary as the patriotic America in which there are no "Negroes" or immigrants. Tension is highlighted again when Father sees the ship filled with incoming immigrants as he leaves for his expedition and "a weird despair seized him." Although he knows immigrants are fantastic consumers of patriotic goods and will boost his profits, outsiders in "derbies" and "shawls" upset his pure view of America.

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