What are the themes of Ragtime?
E. L. Doctorow’s novel Ragtime is set at the beginning of the twentieth century mostly on the East Coast of the U.S.A. The plot follows two families who randomly interact with various historical figures of the time through a series of loosely connected events. Through these events, Doctorow explores the political and social turmoil of the times, the cyclical nature of history, and the need to create order, which are some of the most important themes of this work.
Many of the main characters are affected by historical events such as race riots, labor strikes and the struggle for women’s rights. Through their reaction to these events, Doctorow shows his characters’ attempts at creating order and re-creating stability.
“E. L. Doctorow's novel, Ragtime, is certainly about . . .the creation and re-creation of history,” writes critic Joanna E. Rapf in “Volatile Forms: The Transgressive Energy of Ragtime as Novel and Film,” a 1998 essay published in Literature and Film Quarterly. Doctorow himself commented that “If you don't constantly recompose and re-interpret history, then it begins to tighten its grip on your throat as myth and you find yourself in some kind of totalitarian society, either secular or religious.”
As these quotations illustrate, the effect of historical events on the people who experience them is one of the most important themes in Doctorow’s work Ragtime.