Ragtime

by: E. L. Doctorow

Father

Father's character plays an allegorical role in the novel, as he represents the traditional norms of late nineteenth century America. As such, he finds it difficult to come to terms with the changes he witnesses in the Progressive Era. His feelings of isolation and bewilderment reflect an attitude prevalent among many Americans at this point in history. The reader can often sense that he almost resents these changes in his family as well; such widespread resentment provided the impetus for much of the anti-immigration fervor in the United States. Doctorow provides the reader with some background information of Father's upbringing, essential to an understanding of his thoughts and actions, as well as his psychological makeup and his social views. Although he had been born into an intellectual upper class East Coast family, his own father had squandered their family money as Father finished school and became independent. Doctorow writes, "His flamboyance had produced in his lonely son a personality that was cautious, sober, industrious and chronically unhappy." In addition, Father's interactions with Willie Conklin emphasize his rigid definitions of class, and his reactions to the baseball team, largely comprised of immigrants, exemplify stereotypes typical of many Americans at the turn of the century. When he attends the ballgame with his son, he can only compare these games, which have many immigrant players, to his own Harvard games twenty years earlier. Doctorow writes, "He was disturbed by his nostalgia. He'd always thought of himself as progressive." Emotionally, Father appears perpetually lost in his attempts to adjust to his changing environment, partly due to his lack of reception to these changes. Doctorow writes of Father, "the immigrant, as in every moment of his life, arriving eternally on the shore of his Self." Implicit in this passage is the narrator's observation that although Father clearly occupies a socio-economic position separate than that of the cast majority of immigrants, his emotional state resembles that of an immigrant. Because he never attains a profound self-knowledge, his social and economic status remain irrelevant, and he appears perpetually lost.