In E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime, we learn the story and struggles of distinct genders, classes, races and ethnicities during the turn of the last century. Two such members of these different backgrounds are Tateh and Coalhouse. The first man is a Jewish immigrant who transforms himself from a poverty stricken, frightened newcomer to Baron Ashenazy, a wealthy, flamboyant Americanized filmmaker. The second man is an educated, well-dressed black musician who comes to be known as an enraged lunatic because of his organized violent raids against the more powerful white class. Together, these men are a prime example of how American society – its demands, prejudices and opportunities – can change a man’s mentality. In this essay, I will contrast the difficulties faced by Tateh and Coalhouse in establishing their roles as fathers as they relate to gender, class, race and ethnicity.
At the beginning of twentieth century, it is the role of the man to provide for his family. He must contribute a steady income, safety, and maybe for the first time in history, love of his wife and children. Throughout our story, we find that Tateh’s and Coalhouse’s sole purpose in life seems to be to take care of their families. Because Tateh is
For safety purposes, he wears a clothesline attached to his daughter"tms wrist "so that the girl is not stolen from him" (37). Thus, we find that while Tateh moves up the social ladder, Coalhouse falls off of it. It is here that Tateh begins his struggle out of the confines of the lower working class by selling his own artistic creations to a novelty company and soon thereafter becoming a famous filmmaker Coalhouse becomes removed from his fatherly duties when he chooses to attack the men who he feels are responsible for his Sarah"tms death. He and his daughter live in a one-room tenement with no heat, next to an alley filled with garbage from the other surrounding immigrants who have been forced into the same situation. We learn that he has driven his wife away because she accepted badly needed money in exchange for sex. The American Dream has not become a reality for this family; its failure ruins them. Yet, both men are happy with what they are doing and are confident they are doing the right thing for their children. Sometimes he suffered periods of trembling"slumped over in defeat like the old Tateh. Doing this is difficult for Tateh because he cannot bear the thought of taking charity or being away from his only joy. Doctorow writes, "When he was alone he reflected on his audacity. Upon Sarah"tms unfortunate death, Coalhouse cuts off all relations with his child; but, he does although realize that the family who has taken on the child will provide for him. His son is born to a young black girl of whom he is not married to. He instead demands immediate action-action that certainly costs him his role as a father, not to mention his own life.