Ragtime

Summary

Part III, Chapters 31–33

Summary Part III, Chapters 31–33

This section of the novel focuses on Mother's emotional, psychological, and intellectual processes of change. Her relationship with her husband undergoes a dramatic transformation after his return from the Arctic. After having found the tasks of the family business both simple and somewhat boring, Mother loses the respect she had had for his professional life. Mother's hosting of and caring for Sarah and her baby have also changed her. Although she still feels love for her husband on occasion, it constitutes the old love of friends or family members rather than the passionate love of lovers. Mother has become an idealistic and creative dreamer, while Father, resistant to change, has remained dull and static. Doctorow writes, "Always she had intuited a different future for them, as if the life they led was a kind of preparation, when the manufacturer of flags and fireworks and his wife would life themselves from their respectable existence and discover a life of genius." Mother's dissatisfaction with her husband, and in particular the ways in which he fails to satisfy her, foreshadows her subsequent union with Tateh. Mother grows enamoured with the concept of the motion picture and the perspective it affords on daily life. Doctorow writes, "The idea of examining through frame what was ordinarily seen by the eye intrigued her." This curiosity soon extends to Tateh, for whom she has growing feelings.

Tateh explains the appeal of the motion picture to Mother and Father. Doctorow writes, "In the movie films, he said, we only look at what is there already. Life shines on the shadow screen, as from the darkness of one's mind. It is a big business. People want to know what is happening to them. For a few pennies they sit and see their selves in movement, running, racing in motorcars, fighting, and forgive me, embracing one another. This is most important today, in this country, where everybody is so new." This passage refers to several important concepts in the novel. A recurrent motif, the lens or frame of the camera enables a different perspective on life through duplication. This duplication provides an opportunity for self-examination and introspection. In addition, Tateh touches upon the ability of the motion picture, inexpensive and widespread, to bring different groups of people together at a time when many immigrant groups experienced tension amongst themselves and with the "native" population.