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Literature Study GuidesRagtimePart 2 Chapter 25 Summary

Ragtime | Study Guide

E. L. Doctorow

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Ragtime | Part 2, Chapter 25 | Summary



Since accepting Coalhouse's proposal, Sarah is a new woman, beaming with happiness. She is filled with joy and love for her child. She enjoys her work. She puts on weight and is breathtakingly beautiful. Her newfound happiness grows shaky after Coalhouse announces he won't marry her until his demands about the car have been met. It is an election year, and when Sarah learns Mr. Taft's vice-presidential candidate, James Sherman, is in town to speak at a Republican dinner, she decides to plead Coalhouse's case to him. The Secret Service is particularly jumpy since the assassination attempt against President Roosevelt, and when Sarah approaches Sherman's car they beat her. One officer slams Sarah's chest with the butt of his gun, gravely injuring her. She is arrested and suffers horrific internal bleeding while in jail. She is brought to the hospital the next morning, where the family and Coalhouse rush to see her. It is too late. Sarah has contracted pneumonia and dies.


The chapter opens with the announcement that no one knows much about Sarah's background, like her last name or the town she came from, perhaps to absolve the family of their responsibility to reach out to anyone when Sarah dies. It is interesting to think Mother could be so involved in Sarah's life as to help raise her child, but "never thought to ask" her last name. This further highlights race relations at the time. Although they lived in the same house, Mother and Sarah were not friends, and though they loved the same child, they were not equals. Mother views Sarah as strangely pure, perhaps because she idealizes and romanticizes the desperate, beautiful girl; "She was, Mother realized, the kind of moral being who understood nothing but goodness." This is similar to the way other characters view The Little Girl as pure, simply because she is beautiful. Sarah is a complex character—she tried to kill her newborn baby, after all—yet because she is black she is diminished to a simple representation of Mother's views, which makes her death even more tragic.

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