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Literature Study GuidesRagtimePart 2 Chapter 17 Summary

Ragtime | Study Guide

E. L. Doctorow

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Ragtime | Part 2, Chapter 17 | Summary



Two conductors pull Tateh onto the train and attend to his injuries. He drifts in and out of consciousness until, "somehow they were in Philadelphia." Luckily, Tateh has a few dollars in his pocket and The Little Girl has a small suitcase of packed belongings, and they set out to find somewhere to live. When they enter the shopping district, The Little Girl is amazed by the wonderful things for sale in a big city. She is especially drawn to a curiosity and trinket shop filled with interesting novelty gifts. Tateh is seized with an idea. He pulls one of the silhouette flipbooks from the girl's suitcase and presents it to the shop owner. The owner is intrigued enough to buy the "movie book" for $25 and to offer Tateh a contract for four more books.


Tateh realizes unionization and socialism won't help him achieve the life he wants for his family. He must rely on his own creativity and industrialism by truly embracing American entrepreneurship. Although they have only a few belongings, within their first day in Philadelphia, Tateh secures a lucrative contract that will certainly set his life on a different course. Whereas he previously complained, "This country will not let me breathe," he begins to experience the first joys of financial freedom. Fitting with the novel's themes of technology and the value of repetition, Tateh's windfall comes from inventing entertainment that can be enjoyed over and over with the same result.

From silhouette portraits to flip books, Tateh expresses the evolution of still images into the illusion of movement (24 images per second) frame-by-frame of film. One early device had cutouts of couples dancing in a continuous band that was hand-turned in front of a candle, which gave the illusion of movement, as Tateh's flipbooks do. It is no wonder that by the end of the novel, Tateh has fully evolved from still silhouettes to moving pictures as a director.

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