Interpritation Ragtime

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By E.L.Doctorow
This extract is taken from the novel “Ragtime” by the American writer E.L.Doctorow and is centred on a black jazz pianist, Coalhouse Walker Jr. The text contains a detailed narration of the way Coalhouse Walker Jr. Made his appearance at a certain house in which a white family lived. We are given neither the names of the family, nor their ages, nor any other details. The author calls them Mother, Father, Grandfather, Mother’s Younger Brother and the boy, but they do not play an important part in the story. It is, a young black woman Sarah, living with the family, who is the focus of the narration. It is for her sake Coalhouse keeps visiting the house and does not seem discouraged at her constant refusals to see him.

The author gives very scanty information about Sarah. We come to know she had a baby, but we are in the dark about her life story, her relatives and friends. The author does not present any direct facts, the reader has to read between the lines. As we can gather from the extract Coalhouse and Sarah loved each other and must have been on intimate terms. But later her lover abandoned her and she bore his child. The author does not explain the man’s behaviour in any way and it is left for the reader to guess the reason for his actions. But nonetheless, the reader does not make an unpleasant judgement. It seems Coalhouse had left the woman he loved not because he did not care or was irresponsible; from Coalhouse’s own words, the reader can conclude that he had to make a living, and he could not have done it staying in one place. “It is important, he said, for a musician to find a place that was permanent, a job that required no travelling… I am through travelling, he said, I am through going on the road.” In this extract, Coalhouse appeared after some time had passed. He had obviously found his place in the sun, having become rather well-to-do. He could afford to have a family of his own and wanted Sarah to be with him. He wanted to make amends, for he felt a sense of remorse for having abandoned her, and he had never stopped loving her. But Sarah, who had suffered too much, did not feel forgiving.

The plot of the passage is not of major importance, and the action proceeds slowly. The narration itself is precise but dry. The writer does not express his opinion about the events and his characters’ conduct, but he simply states the facts. He sounds aloof and detached.

The ending is not clear, it is ambiguous and vague, and leaves room for suggestion.
The text belongs to a psychological type of writing, as the writer is more interested in his characters’ feelings and relations reflected in their behaviour than in the narration of events. The main characters are Coalhouse Walker Jr. and Sarah, though very little is said about the girl. The other characters serve only as the background; they are not even given names. It enables the author to concentrate all the attention on the conflict between the pianist and Sarah. The reader gets an idea that their conflict is very deep underneath, though nothing is expressed explicitly. Most information is left behind the lines. What is implied outweighs what is expressed. Moreover, due to the composition of the passage in which exposition is interwoven with the story, and its emotional mood the reader finds himself involved into their conflict and is ready to share their feelings and to sympathize with them.

The narration centres around Coalhouse. The author describes in detail and with much precision his visits to the family, the attitude of the family members towards him, his playing the piano, the music he played, and its impact on the listeners. The author uses few epithets and metaphors to describe Coalhouse’s appearance and conduct. But he underlines time and again Coalhouse’s reserve, calm and politeness, employing adjectives “respectful”, “courteous”, “correct”, “solemn” and “stiff”. Despite his outer calm Coalhouse was very nervous and tense,...
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