Sacrificing an Identity
In the novel Ragtime, many aspects of the American society are explored. The reader gets an understanding of the history and hardships of different social classes, races, and cultures during the last century. A persistent theme established is the existence of the American dream. Doctorow expresses his fascination of the social mobility since it includes the impoverished and underprivileged. However, he highlights that when attempting to reach success, one is required to make sacrifices, negotiating his morality and identity. Tateh and Coalhouse are crucial examples of how the demands, prejudices, and opportunities of the American society can change a man’s mentality.
During his escalation from poverty to high-class, Tateh is forced to give up his social beliefs and identity, believing it necessary in order to attain a better life for himself and his daughter. Their life began as many European immigrants did, living in public dwellings. Similar to many living in poverty and being a socialist, Tateh criticizes the upper and Bourgeois class in a negative spotlight, “his heart...outraged" when he “looked at the palaces” (Ragtime 15). These beliefs lead him to become part of a strike in Massachusetts. It is obvious to the reader that Tateh is thrilled with the idea of being shot to death rather than starving to death. Tateh's life , however, is ironic since he loathes the wealthy yet he yearns to achieve such fortune.
Another point in the novel, he shows aloofness to Americans which is seen with the relationship with Evelyn Nesbitt. One morning, Evelyn shows up at his door, and he hesitantly “welcomes” her in. In fact, "Tateh was scandalized by her visit” that in “great agitation he smoked a cigarette, in the European style" (Ragtime 47). At this moment, Tateh's moral values and self identity are complete, not affected by the “American Dream”. However, while Tateh’s dream starts to develop, the essential characteristics of his life are sacrificed in exchange for prosperity.
Tateh begins to challenge his old life, seeking a better one. Later on, he and Little Girl reach Philadelphia, after fleeing from New York, where Tateh realizes his potential for movie books. Thus, that was the point at which his career is sparked. Due to this abrupt success, Tateh transforms from a socialist immigrant to an Americanized capitalist. As his wealth rises, Tateh provides his daughter with an abundant amount of food, elegant dresses, and hope for a better future. It seems as if Tateh desires to erase the past from his daughter’s memories more than his own. While in Atlantic City, the reader notices his desire “to drive from her memory every tenement stench and filthy immigrant street” by buying her “light and sun and clean wind of the ocean for the rest of her life” (Doctorow 259). While he might have achieved his...