Ragtime is a novel written by Edgar Lawrence Doctorow that was published in 1975. Ragtime is a historical fiction novel that is set in New York City. Doctorow is a New York City native, and after going to school at Kenyon College and Columbia University, he spent a few years publishing books before writing his own and teaching about literature. Doctorow’s works are typically deep in philosophical ponderings and putting famous figures in unconventional situations to push the boundaries of historical fiction, making his writing both controversial and original. As a result, Doctorow’s unique writing style has brought him much positive attention, with Ragtime ranking in the top 100 books for the Modern Library and for TIME.
Ragtime is set in and around New York City, from the start of the century to before World War One. The work puts both fictional and historical figures together in important events and ideas during that pre-war period in American history. The novel’s main characters are not named. They are members of a wealthy family in New Rochelle, New York, and they are referred to as Father, Mother, Mother’s Younger Brother, Grandfather, and “the little boy.” In addition, the narrator is never identified, whether in name or in relation to this family. This family is wealthy because they manufacture flags and fireworks, appealing to the nationalistic mentality of this time period. Their wealth obviously does not solve problems, as Father and Mother struggle with the division of independence and control after Father goes to the North Pole, and Mother’s Younger Brother is a genius in their industry yet cannot satisfy his love life.