The Progressive Era

The Progressive Era

The author E.L. Doctorow addresses many major societal changes in turn-of-the-century America in his novel Ragtime. Ragtime reflects the effects of business expansion and the progressive reform in the United States. Ragtime tells the reader a lot about the climate of the American society at the turn of the twentieth century. The novel displays how some characters welcome and accept change, while other reject and struggle with it. The progressives struggled to improve American society by working toward equality. Progressives shared optimism about American citizens’ ability to improve social conditions, by actively intervening, both politically and morally, and ensure social justice. On the other hand, the upper, wealthy class struggled to maintain the current and traditional societal rules. They did not want to lose any of their wealth and power to the working, immigrant class. Throughout Ragtime, the characters attempt to derive meaning from their experiences and from the way in which the world challenges and changes them. J.P. Morgan and Ford even have a discussion about reincarnation which shows a desire to seek more outside the realm of what is known and to give meaning to life. The Progressive Era during which this novel is set was a period marked by rapid technological developments and industrialization. Technological advancements enabled increased efficiency and mass production. In Ragtime Doctorow clearly addresses the potential for technology to undermine the value of the individual and his abilities. Also addressed in the novel is how imprisonment manifests itself in numerous different ways in Ragtime. Physical, emotional, philosophical, political, and economic are all represented forms of imprisonment in Ragtime. For example, Harry Houdini, a famous escape artist, astounds crowds with his ability to escape from any given enclosed area; therefore, his struggle does not originate in physical imprisonment, but in emotional …


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