Literature Study GuidesRagtimePart 3 Chapter 36 Summary

Ragtime | Study Guide

E. L. Doctorow

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Ragtime | Part 3, Chapter 36 | Summary



Morgan's curator is ready to give into any of Coalhouse's demands to ensure the safety of his boss's belongings, but Whitman's colleagues warn, "If we don't in there and cut off [Coalhouse's] balls, you'll have every nigger in the country at your throat!" They consider a variety of options to force Coalhouse and his gang out, but the side effects of each plan are always too great. When he tries to speak to Coalhouse directly, Coalhouse throws a note out the window relaying his unchanged demands. Frustrated and looking for someone to blame, Whitman demands Emma Goldman be arrested for conspiracy. Later, Whitman hears Booker T. Washington is in town, and he invites him to come down and negotiate with Coalhouse.


Tensions rise as Whitman makes contact with Coalhouse and realizes he is not a maniac. "He was stunned by the calm businesslike tone of the black man." This interaction humanizes Coalhouse and makes it more difficult to simply disregard his actions as those of a madman who needs authorities to "cut off his balls." The most notable scene in this chapter, however, is the arrest of Emma Goldman. Goldman has absolutely nothing to do with Coalhouse's actions yet she is arrested and charged in connection. Her arrest suggests a paranoid government's obsession with punishing anyone who challenges its authority. Those who refuse to conform are in danger. Goldman's comments to reporters after her arrest again touch on the novel's theme of appropriation; "As an anarchist, I applaud [Coalhouse's] appropriation of the Morgan property. Mr. Morgan has done some appropriating of his own."

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