Confucius once said, “Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change.” In the novel Ragtime, written by E.L. Doctorow, Doctorow addresses social issues that are occurring at the time, and does so through the reactions of his characters. During the 1900’s social change was very frequent and Doctorow focuses on how his characters accept the change that occurs. Throughout Ragtime, the difficulty and willingness of accepting change is present within characters and groups of people and the connection between them.
Groups such as African Americans and women fighting for change and the effect that it has on characters such as Father and Mother in their relationship.
In addition to the women’s rights movement, African Americans were also fighting for equality through their own movements. African Americans created groups like the NAACP that were fighting for the civil rights, education and the equality of black people society.
One of the most important changes in Ragtime is the women’s civil rights movement.
Women were accepting more roles in society and taking on some of the same responsibilities of men, “Mother could now speak crisply of such matters as unit cost, inventory and advertising. She had assumed executive responsibilities” (Doctorow 112). At first Father seemed impressed at Mother’s accomplishments and her new found responsibilities. However, we see Father struggle to accept how Mother can now take on the same roles as him and all men, “Everything she had done stood up under his examination. He was astounded” (Doctorow 112). Father being “astounded” shows the reader the difficulty that men had accepting the bigger role that women started to play in society.
Father even becomes depressed at the fact that Mother has taken on these roles. The depression that he feels stems from the feeling of helplessness that he feels because he feels he doesn’t have a role in society anymore.
On the other hand, Mother accepts her new found responsibilities positively. When Father is absent through the novel, Mother does better than she has ever done in her life. As she takes on the family business and has to take care of her child, instead of being burden with all the work that she has, she realizes that she is capable of more than she could have ever thought. When Mother leaves Father, she goes on to marry a man named Tateh which was a controversial decision because marriage between Christians and Jews was not socially accepted at the time. The fact that Mother went through with the marriage even though it was socially unacceptable shows how she has surpassed social norms and she continues to accept the change that is occurring and thrives under those circumstances.
In conclusion, Ragtime explores social issues with change in America and the effect that it had on certain groups and people, the good and the bad effects. In the novel, Doctorow digs into the biggest and most influential social changes in the history of America by showing how these changes affected people’s lives and their reactions to that change. In the end, Doctorow showed that change can be difficult to accept in some cases, but also showed that change is for the better in some cases too.