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Literature Study GuidesRagtimePart 3 Chapter 35 Summary

Ragtime | Study Guide

E. L. Doctorow

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Ragtime | Part 3, Chapter 35 | Summary



Coalhouse had actually hoped to take Morgan hostage in his home until his demands were met. Unfortunately, Coalhouse's young spies got confused, and the gang ended up barricaded inside his library instead. Younger Brother aptly points out that the mistake doesn't matter; "We wanted the man and so we have him since we have his property." Indeed, it wouldn't have mattered if they had found the house anyway as Morgan is on his way to Egypt to research reincarnation. Upon hearing of the barricade, police immediately blockade the area and call in New York's district attorney, Charles S. Whitman, to negotiate. Whitman quickly gets to work calling for blueprints of the building and sending spies in on reconnaissance. He feels as if his entire career is tied to the success of this negotiation.


Younger Brother's comment about "having" Morgan because they have his property highlights society's habit of valuing "things" over people. Money is king, especially in America. For example, Father feels superior to men like Conklin and the baseball crowds because he is wealthier. Morgan was the perfect target for this attack for no other reason than he is America's wealthiest man. For men like Father, and indeed the authorities, money equates to status and civilization. This is why murderers like Thaw still receive gourmet meals and other special privileges in prison while men like Coalhouse are treated as maniacal animals. The authorities are somewhat paralyzed given the new situation. They want to bring Coalhouse in, but as he planned, they don't want anything "valuable" to be destroyed. Their reticence forces the reader to question what society honors when ancient papers are deemed more valuable than a man's life.

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