Ragtime: a Look at Father

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Money Does Not Buy Happiness

In Ragtime, a famous piece of American literature written by E.L. Doctorow, Father suffers the fate of being unsuccessful. It seems that Father’s character is depicted by Doctorow as an extremely ordinary upper-class American of the 1920’s. He’s conservative, fairly wealthy, sexist, and racist. He’s an explorer, an entrepreneur, and a patriot. Doctorow uses Father to show us that success certainly cannot be found through money, and for that matter, fitting in with the status quo. In fact, Father’s role as the status quo American – in some ways – leads to his unsuccessfulness. In Father’s particular case, the primary attribute of his that makes him unsuccessful is his incapacity to be a good husband. It is quite apparent that Father could not – or did not want to – adapt to occurrences around him. That, too, contributed to his eventual failure.

Though ultimately Father is unsuccessful, the stage is set up early on for the reader to think Father is successful. Economically, he and his family are beyond stable with the Great Depression just around the corner. Details of what many Americans experienced in the work world helped to describe some of the problems that most workers had to deal with. While father enjoys an incessant revenue stream, Americans and immigrants struggled with harsh work conditions, low pay, and the dangers of being involved in labor unions. Again, Father’s economic prosperity did not aid him to be successful overall in the end. His success as an explorer manages to begin the destruction of Father’s family life as he knew it. In fact, Doctorow mentions, “It was apparent to them both (Father and Mother) that this time [Father]’d stayed away too long” (Doctorow 92). This quote suggests that Father’s voyage to the North Pole lasted too long and too much had changed while he was gone. In this way, Father’s triumph in exploration did not make him successful.

Father’s family life falling apart...
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