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Literature Study GuidesRagtimePart 3 Chapter 34 Summary

Ragtime | Study Guide

E. L. Doctorow

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Ragtime | Part 3, Chapter 34 | Summary



At the seaside hotel Tateh diligently works on a 15-chapter "photoplay." He is prone to bouts of depression and angst but is overall thrilled with his new existence: "He felt he deserved his happiness. He'd constructed it without help." With the success of his flipbooks, Tateh soon began producing longer versions before moving on to feature length films. Throughout the process he reinvented himself, giving himself the new name Baron Ashkenzay. In her new life, The Little Girl remains stoic and withdrawn. She develops a close relationship with The Little Boy, and they spend all their time together, much to their parents' amusement. One evening, the children visit the boardwalk together to view the "Freaks," which startles them both. Another day they hide in a cave while a violent storm whips across the shore. Mother and Tateh battle the storm searching for their lost children. When they are reunited, all are overwhelmed with joyful emotion. Tateh begins to notice that Mother is beautiful and young with a nice figure. Meanwhile, Father grows bored with their new setting and wishes to return home. When he learns that Coalhouse and his gang have barricaded themselves inside Pierpont Morgan's library, he leaves the family and rushes back home.


In this chapter Baron Ashkenzay is revealed to be Tateh. He has fully embraced the idea of the American dream and reinvented himself, dying his hair black and giving himself a noble new name. This reinvention represents the concept of self-expression in the performing arts, which was common in this era. Performers could completely reinvent themselves on stage; women performed as nuns, and men performed as women. "Display was a prime feature of vaudeville. Audiences delighted in warps of time, space, and identity; vaudeville supplied an amazing variety of anomalies to satisfy both the side-show appetite for the weird and the freedom of expression expected in a being of ambiguous origins." Tateh had everything needed to be a success—talent, determination, resilience, and luck. Like many immigrants, Tateh is motivated to create a better life for his daughter, even admitting to adopting the new name because he saw how it offered immigrant daughters better marriage prospects: "So he invented a baronry for himself. It got him around in a Christian World." This statement also highlights the difficulty immigrants, particularly Jewish, had achieving equality in a predominantly Christian society. This was also true of Irish Catholic immigrants—a hint of which is seen in the disdain society has for Chief Conklin. As Father proves time and time again, social order and "sameness" is valued over difference. To succeed, Tateh knows he must become "a new man." It is significant that at the end of the novel, Mother has left behind the "old world" of her marriage to Father and embraced the "new world" by marrying Tateh, leaving the novel with a sense of hope for the future.

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