E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime : Mobility

1220 Words5 Pages
The American Dream of upward mobility, of “rags to riches,” is an idea that echoes throughout our history and reverberates through the novel Ragtime. Ragtime, written by E. L. Doctorow chronicles the story of a family living in America at the turn of the twentieth century. The novel blends reality and fiction as real-life historical figures receive prominent roles in the narrative, as Doctorow integrates the figures’ true identities with their character counterparts’. We will focus on two such historical figure-characters: Emma Goldman and Evelyn Nesbit. Their stories illustrate how gender and class both define the American Dream and affect the possibility of achieving it. We will explore American Dream through the stories of two women living in the twentieth century, focusing on the female gender and the desire to ascend from lower-class celebrity to upper-class notability, in the case of Evelyn Nesbit, as well as the desire to transcend class divisions to attain political legitimacy and authority, in the case of Emma Goldman. As people, we can define the idea of the American Dream as upward mobility, understood in the context of social or economic advancement. The power of the American Dream rests in its sense of collective ownership: anyone can get ahead. Anyone can get ahead: a member of the lower class can ascend to fellowship with his upper-class brothers, a poor immigrant can become wealthy and successful. This statement, however, is not entirely true. In 1902, the year in which Ragtime is set, class and gender are two barriers that must be overcome to achieve the American Dream of upward mobility. We see this in the economic opportunities provided to women in twentieth century America in the jobs to which they were assigned and the wages they were paid, which both reinforced the difference between the sexes. Furthermore, a woman’s sexual
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