Ragtime

Women's Roles in Ragtime 10th Grade

In the early 1900s, the time period in which the novel Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow takes place, expectations were that women should be submissive, obedient, and dependent upon their husbands. Women were considered weak, fragile, and in need of protection from men. In Ragtime, anarchist Emma Goldman challenges the perceived role of women in their chauvinistic society; impacting the lives of characters such as Evelyn Nesbit, a symbol of sex and desire, and Mother, a housewife starting to find her own identity as an independent woman.

Emma Goldman is first introduced to the reader when Evelyn attends Goldman’s meeting, where she expresses her disbelief in the institution of marriage. Goldman compares marriage to slavery, saying that it is oppressing to women. She disputes the idea of women only being useful for sex and homemaking. “The truth is, Goldman went on quickly, women may not vote, they may not love whom they want, they may not develop their minds and their spirits, they may not commit their lives to the spiritual adventure of life, comrades they may not! And why? Is our genius only in our wombs? Can we not write books and create learned scholarship and perform music and provide philosophical models for the...

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