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Literature Study GuidesRagtimePart 3 Chapter 31 Summary

Ragtime | Study Guide

E. L. Doctorow

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Ragtime | Part 3, Chapter 31 | Summary



Father leaves the game worried and disappointed, yet he feels heartened when his son takes his hand in a rare act of affection. When they arrive home, Mother is breathless with excitement. Sarah's son has learned to walk, and even Father watches him toddle with pride. Mother is newly resolved to protect the child, and in better spirits, Father agrees to take care of everything. He rents rooms in a hotel in Atlantic City, arranges for the staff to care for the home while they're away, and for The Little Boy to leave school early. Meanwhile, the press runs wild with the Coalhouse story. The Model T is dragged up from the river where it has been rusting and is displayed as proof of Coalhouse's maltreatment. Public opinion shifts against Chief Conklin as citizens demand he leave town. As anger and fear spreads through the city, the family quietly boards a train and departs to the seaside.


The public's reaction to seeing Coalhouse's car shows how public opinion has been changing, which may surprise some readers as the event had previously been viewed only through the New Rochelle family's eyes. Although the authorities refuse to acknowledge the racial motivations behind Conklin's attack, the general public is outraged. However, it's worth noting their outrage is likely more due to the fact that they're in danger of Coalhouse's wrath rather than outrage at the inciting incident. Sarah's son's learning to walk is a bittersweet moment. It is Mother and Father who delight in his milestone because the boy's father is on the run. Doctorow cleverly includes Conklin's attack just as Father works to rebuild his relationship with The Little Boy, contrasting the two men's pursuit of legacy with their sons. The legacy of Coalhouse's violent act will hopefully be bigger than his relationship with his son and will almost certainly prevent him from having one.

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