Coalhouse Walker Jr.

             In the novel Ragtime, the character Coalhouse Walker Jr. turns to a life of violence after an incident procured by a bunch of racist volunteer firefighters. The Emerald Isle volunteer firefighter staff vandalized Coalhouse’s car, when they detained him in order to make him pay a toll for passage on their road. Coalhouse is a black pianist, who in general was a very humble and obedient man, until that incident made him out to be a depraved killer. His change from a calm man into a violent one was also furthered by the death of his fiancée Sarah, who was killed by the Vice-President’s bodyguards. The combination of events, both the loss of his future wife and the vandalizing of his custom-made car made Coalhouse turn to violence as a solution to his problems.
             The author the novel, E.L. Doctorow uses this incident to point out the extreme racial discrimination and ignorance of the white populace in the early 1900’s. This occurrence is a harsh reminder of how the black people were persecuted in earlier times. Doctorow applies the character of Coalhouse Walker Jr. to generalize this sentiment, and also in a way justifies the reactions of Coalhouse. After the occasion at the firehouse, Doctorow repeats the fact that Coalhouse is a very dignified and persistent man by having him go on about his desire to have reparations made, and to seek the justice of Willie Conklin. This repetition shows to the reader that it is an important belief of Coalhouse’s to seek compensation, and in anyway necessary.
             Doctorow also tries to balance the attitude towards Coalhouse’s actions by offering other perspectives, if only a few, to the destruction of the firehouses. On page 176 he offers Father’s strong and adamant thoughts, “Nothing under haven can excuse the killing men and the destruction of property in this manner.” The same idea can be seen in an editorial written about the killings, “…[Coalhouse should] accept the principle...

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Coalhouse Walker Jr. . (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 05:52, January 16, 2017, from