Study Guide

World's Fair

by E. L. Doctorow

World's Fair Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

In comparison to Doctorow’s earlier novels, World’s Fair seems remarkably straightforward. It resembles a work of conventional nonfiction, and like a memoir, it is largely bound by a chronological structure. Much of the action is seen through the consciousness of a young boy, Edgar, growing up in the Bronx during the 1939-1940 World’s Fair. Given the character’s name and background, it is difficult not to conclude that Doctorow has himself and his family in mind. He had used his New Rochelle house as a model for the house in Ragtime and the mind of a young boy as the intuitive medium through which many of the domestic, private events of the novel were filtered. Doctorow’s interest in the way the fictional and factual impinge upon each other would naturally lead to this exercise in quasi-autobiography, in which the materials from his own background underpin the plot. The World’s Fair becomes a metaphor for the boy’s growing up and for the United States’ maturation.

Unlike many American novelists, Doctorow does not merely criticize American materialism, seeing in the emphasis on things a soul-deadening culture which is antithetical to the artist’s imagination. On the contrary, he enjoys playing with and observing the materiality of the United States—decrying, to be sure, the way in which the culture turns its important figures and events into toys and commercials for capitalism but also capturing the American delight in...

(The entire section is 581 words.)