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Literature Study GuidesRagtimePart 1 Chapter 6 Summary

Ragtime | Study Guide

E. L. Doctorow

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Ragtime | Part 1, Chapter 6 | Summary



Freud arrives in New York with his "disciples" Jung and Ferenczi. During his tour of the city, Freud rarely speaks, struggles to find a bathroom, and visits Coney Island amusement park. His caravan passes a beautiful woman having her silhouette cut by a street artist who works on the corner with his young daughter tied to a clothesline around his waist. He visits Niagara Falls before returning home, calling America "a giant mistake." The narrator lists many reasons the American public likely would have agreed with Freud; "One hundred Negroes a year were lynched. One hundred miners were burned alive. One hundred children were mutilated. There seemed to be quotas for these things."


The tragic statistics at the end of this chapter highlight Doctorow's sardonic tone regarding how the American public views facts, dehumanizing tragedy. This dehumanization will come to the forefront when Coalhouse Walker is the victim of race-based attacks. This chapter is essentially the narrator poking fun at many of Freud's theories. While on his tour Freud chews a cigar (an important symbol in Freud's phallic theories), rides in the Tunnel of Love with Carl Jung—another psychoanalyst who became friends with Freud after penning fawning fan mail to him—and struggles to find a bathroom, poking fun at Freud's theories of sexual behaviors resulting from toilet training issues. Again, Doctorow uses his fluid narrative to connect the anecdotes about Freud to Tateh and The Little Girl (and perhaps Evelyn as the beautiful woman), as well as to American history through the facts and figures at the end of the chapter.

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