Billy Bathgate Additional Summary

E. L. Doctorow


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The first long sentence of Billy Bathgate launches right into the excitement of a scene in which Dutch Schultz is disposing of a disloyal associate, Bo Weinberg. The setting is described by fifteen-year-old Billy Bathgate, the novel’s narrator, who is impressed with the smooth running of the Dutchman’s criminal enterprise. A car drives up to a dark dock; without using any light or making a sound, Schultz’s crew gets on a boat with Bo and his girlfriend, Drew Preston. Schultz’s control over the situation is awesome and inspiring for the young boy, who has been given the honor of running errands and performing other chores for the famous gang. He becomes their mascot and good luck charm.

Schultz has a way of utterly changing the face of things, and for a long time, working for him has a fairy-tale quality to it. Billy is enchanted by the sheer magic of the way Schultz gets things done. No sooner is Bo Weinberg overboard with his cement overshoes than Schultz is making love to Drew Preston—a socialite who is fascinated, for a while, by his presence and energy. She even accompanies Schultz to Onondaga in upstate New York, where he takes over a town, plying the locals with gifts and setting up a cozy atmosphere in preparation for what he rightly expects will be a favorable jury verdict in the case the government has brought against him for tax evasion.

Schultz’s great strength, however, is also his great weakness. By making all of his business revolve around him, he fails to see how crime is becoming organized and corporate. His way of doing business is almost feudal—depending almost entirely on violence and on the loyalty of subordinates—and he has no grasp of how to put together an organization that can compete with the combinations of power being amassed by the government and by his rival, Lucky Luciano. Schultz wants to personalize everything so that it all evolves out of his own ego. That ego is unstable, however; on an impulse, he kills an uncooperative colleague in an...

(The entire section is 826 words.)