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Literature Study GuidesRagtimePart 3 Chapter 39 Summary

Ragtime | Study Guide

E. L. Doctorow

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Ragtime | Part 3, Chapter 39 | Summary



Chief Conklin is dragged from his hiding place and brought to the gallery, where the damaged Model T and all the appropriate parts wait for him. Under the guidance of two Ford employees, Conklin repairs the car for a growing audience. "By five in the afternoon, with the sun still blazing in the sky over New York, a shining black Model T Ford with a custom pantasote roof stood at the curb." Coalhouse never even glances out the window—he is consumed at Morgan's desk writing his will. Father, who has returned to the gallery as a volunteer hostage—confronts Younger Brother in the bathroom, demanding an explanation for joining Coalhouse's gang. Younger Brother refuses to answer Father directly but asks him to tell Mother, "I have always loved and admired her." When the Model T is finished, the young followers rush out of the gallery and make their escape in it. Coalhouse and Father sit in silence next to each other, and Coalhouse asks for details about his son.


Coalhouse's story seems to come to a surprisingly happy end. Conklin is publicly shamed and faces potential charges, the Model T is restored, and Coalhouse's men escape. The "beauty" of Ford's invention is seen in that an ignorant, untrained man (Conklin) is able to use factory parts and pieces to fully restore Coalhouse's car. Father finally confronts Younger Brother about his decision to join Coalhouse's gang. Younger Brother refuses to answer Father, whom he loathes. He realizes Father thinks of himself as a progressive "gentleman," but Younger Brother disagrees. "You are a complacent man with no thought of history. You pay your employees poorly and are insensitive to their needs." With this, Younger Brother accuses Father of being part of the rigged system upholding the social hierarchy and keeping the underserved from achieving equality. Interestingly, while Younger Brother makes his argument, he is washing off blackface and putting on cufflinks, a coat, and a derby. He has the same "gentlemanly" appearance as Father—even Coalhouse admits "one white face looks just like another"—although he wears his ensemble mockingly.

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