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Literature Study GuidesRagtimePart 3 Chapter 33 Summary

Ragtime | Study Guide

E. L. Doctorow

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Ragtime | Part 3, Chapter 33 | Summary



The family passes a blissful summer at the Jersey Shore hotel. Their surroundings are peaceful and quiet, with "starched white cloths," healthy breakfasts, and crisp mid-afternoon swims in the ocean. Both Mother and Father's moods improve dramatically; "They felt they looked grand and prosperous." Hints of dissatisfaction remain, however, such as Mother's disapproval of Father's "distasteful" bathing suit. She also dislikes making love to her husband, despite her improved mood, because she resents the way he reacted to Coalhouse's situation. She is also depressed to be once again relegated to a domestic role, despite her business success. She focuses her attention on Sarah's son who thrives in the new environment and in new friendships with other hotel guests. She is particularly drawn to flamboyant immigrant Baron, later revealed to be the now-successful Tateh. Tateh's beautiful daughter quickly befriends The Little Boy, and soon the families are inseparable.


The family's upper-class existence allows them to escape the violence of social unrest in ways other characters—Coalhouse in New Rochelle and Tateh in Lawrence—never could. Even though their town is in upheaval, Mother and Father continue to live with multi-course meals, white tablecloths, and peaceful swims in the ocean. Their wealth allows them to live in a fantasy world where Mother's greatest grievance is the cut of Father's "immodest" bathing suit. Despite their attempts to escape, outside troubles sneak in. Mother cannot forget the way Father reacted to Coalhouse's first attack. She has lost respect for her husband and his old world thinking. Her relationship with Sarah and her son has given Mother opportunity to see the world outside her social class. She has become a dreamer while Father remains stagnant: "he had aged and gone dull, made stupid, perhaps, by his travels and his work, so that more and more he only demonstrated his limits, that he had reached them, and that he would never move beyond them." It's clear from their first meeting that Mother and Tateh, whose world is exciting, artistic, and filled with possibility, are far better matched than Mother and Father.

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