Literature Study GuidesRagtimePart 1 Chapter 4 Summary

Ragtime | Study Guide

E. L. Doctorow

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Course Hero. (2017, March 13). Ragtime Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved July 16, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Ragtime/

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Course Hero. "Ragtime Study Guide." March 13, 2017. Accessed July 16, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Ragtime/.

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Course Hero, "Ragtime Study Guide," March 13, 2017, accessed July 16, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Ragtime/.

Ragtime | Part 1, Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

At a political party where he helped design the fireworks display, Mother's Younger Brother daydreams about Evelyn Nesbit. At the same time, Evelyn is visiting her husband, Harry K. Thaw, in jail. Her life has been difficult since Thaw went to jail for killing her lover, Stanford White. She is hounded by the press, her greedy mother, and her disparaging mother-in-law. She spends most of her time locked up in her room, going over her court testimony for which she will be paid $200,000. She will testify Thaw became enraged when he learned White "ruined" her when she was 15, although everyone knows Thaw has a history of violent behavior. Despite his terrible charges, Thaw receives special treatment in jail because of his wealth and status. Evelyn thinks about her years of abuse at Thaw's hands and the degrading things she must do while he's in prison, which leaves her feeling depressed.

Analysis

With Father away on his expedition, Mother's Younger Brother runs the business and secures a deal with a politician running for re-election. Although he enjoys designing the fireworks displays, he spends all his time thinking about Evelyn. This longing allows Doctorow to transition to Thaw's trial, at which Evelyn will be testifying. Readers gain insight into how Evelyn's victimization affects her relationship with men and her desire to feel loved. Her dark history not only helps explain her behavior, but it also supports the theme of female oppression regardless of social standing. In Ragtime's era, women—no matter how rich or poor—are little more than playthings for male entertainment, and they have very few means to escape that position. Evelyn continues to "prostitute" herself to her husband—testifying on his behalf and offering sexual favors—in exchange for money. Her role in the trial also highlights the sensationalism of the press at this time, which catapulted women into notorious status whenever murder was involved.

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