Write an essay on Ragtime
Below are some suggested questions for the paper.
E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime
* How does Ragtime illustrate the idea that there is no such thing as a set reality based on “fact” or “truth,” but that all understanding is the product of the interaction between the human imagination and the physical world? How does it illustrate the power of language, or the idea that whatever group controls language controls lived experience, not only for itself, but for other individuals and groups? What can it teach us about how imaginative interpretations of “reality” can translate into the empowerment or disempowerment of specific individuals and groups in many spheres of culture and society?
* How does Ragtime encourage us to think in new ways about history, historical events, historical figures, and specific ideas and institutions? Here you could discuss the text as a work of “historical metafiction,” but you wouldn’t have to.
* How does Ragtime use “metaphorical juxtaposition” to produce new understanding or to highlight the connections between seemingly unrelated things?
* What does Ragtime teach us about the relationship between exploitation and violence? Think about all the different forms of violence portrayed in the text and how we are encouraged to think of some of them as justified/moral and some of them as unjustified/immoral. What shapes how we think about and judge violence in the world today?
* How does Ragtime explore the relationship between the past, the present, and the future? (Here you might discuss the symbolism of reincarnation, repetition, and duplication.)
* Explore any of the various symbols and/or metaphors used repeatedly in the novel to bring out major themes. Think about chapters in the text that seem more symbolic than plot oriented.
* Explore the significance of the ending of the novel. Did Tateh sell out by giving up his egalitarian ideals in order to enjoy personal success? You might discuss other ways the novel explores the relationship between an individual’s personal experiences of empowerment/disempowerment and his/her political “consciousness.
* Explore the significance of race and sex in the novel. For example, what is Emma Goldman suggesting in Chapter 8 about the ways women (and especially poor women) are exploited under capitalism?
* Explore how the novel reflects the tension in American culture between a. equality and freedom; b. the rights of business and the rights of workers/citizens; and c. the pursuit of individualism and a focus on the greater good (national community). The novel also explores competing ideas about how to best resolve these tensions, i.e., through “giving back” vs. through systemic change, etc.
Your essay should not be merely a description of the text you are writing about, or of its plot. (In other words, it should not be a book report.) Rather, your essay should revolve around a central thesis, or argument that you are making about the text. Your thesis should be a combination of description and analysis; in other words, your thesis must not only describe what is portrayed in the text, but state what you see as the significance of this portrayal – what it can teach us, what we can learn from it, why it matters. And you must support your central argument and main points with textual evidence — specific examples from the text consisting of both summary and direct quotations.
You may do a comparative analysis in which you discuss both texts. You may also bring in the movie Mammoth. Finally, if you write on race or on feminist themes you could bring in the poetry of Langston Hughes, Adrienne Rich, or Sylvia Plath. You may NOT write ONLY on the poetry or movie. If you incorporate a discussion of the poetry or movie into an analysis of Ragtime I would like to see a thesis.
Your essay should be written in MLA format. It should be 4-5 pages long, double-spaced, in Times New Roman font, with one inch margins on all sides of the page. Do not include a separate title page. Instead, put your name, my name, the course title, and the date in the upper left-hand corner of the first page. Then center the title of your essay below this information with no extra spaces above or below it. (Do not underline, italicize or bold your title, or put it in a different font.) Create a header at the top right-hand corner of each page of your essay that contains your last name followed by the page number.
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