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Literature Study GuidesRagtimePart 1 Chapter 9 Summary

Ragtime | Study Guide

E. L. Doctorow

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Ragtime | Part 1, Chapter 9 | Summary



Back in New Rochelle, Mother is annoyed because Younger Brother has left without notice. Trying to figure out his motivations, she searches through his impeccably tidy room to no avail. With Father on his expedition and Younger Brother missing, Mother feels abandoned. She finds solace in the garden, which she paces furiously, thinking, while The Little Boy watches her from the upstairs window. Suddenly, Mother stops pacing, puts a hand to her ear, and begins frantically digging at the flowerbed. She pulls a dirty bundle from the ground and The Little Boy realizes it's a newborn baby. Mother cleans the baby up and calls the police. It doesn't take long for them to identify the mother, a poor, black wash woman named Sarah. When Mother sees Sarah, she is surprised how young and beautiful she is. Rather than have Sarah arrested, Mother persuades the police to let Sarah and her infant stay in her home, with Mother assuming "the responsibility."


Although she feels abandoned by Father and Younger Brother, Mother comes into her own during their absence. She takes control of Father's business and makes astute decisions in his absence. She also makes the big decision to take in Sarah and her baby, assuming all responsibility for them. Mother recognizes Sarah's plight in a way other upper class characters do not. The doctor who inspects the newborn, for example, mutters, "These people," as if the abandonment were a racial characteristic. Within this chapter, Mother changes dramatically. Not only does she acknowledge "Negroes" exist, she takes Sarah into her home despite the "sense of misfortune" and "chaos" she feels it brings. It is worth noting Mother feels drawn to Sarah because she is beautiful; "Mother was shocked by [Sarah's] youth. She had a child's face, a guileless brown beautiful face." This is very similar to the way Evelyn viewed The Little Girl when she "collected" her in Chapter 7. Mother views Sarah as a needy child in the same way Evelyn views The Little Girl. The beauty of both characters ignites a maternal instinct to protect across social and racial lines, and both "collect" their charges as acquisitions to care for.

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