Sacrifice and the American Dream in the Works of E.L Doctorow
Throughout the works of E.L. Doctorow, many facets of American society are explored, ranging from the plight of the homeless to the idiosyncrasies of the rich. A persistent theme prevalent in all of his novels is the existence of the American dream. He seems fascinated by upward social mobility, especially when it involves the impoverished and underprivileged. Yet Doctorow also points out that with the success or attempted success of the American dream, one must make sacrifices, compromising morality, physical well-being, conscience, or identity. The overall benefits, though, of achieving prosperity, equality, or acceptance seem to always outweigh the adverse
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During this ascension from poverty to prowess, Tateh is forced to give up both his social beliefs and original identity in order to attain a better life for himself and his daughter. Their life begins as most European immigrants did, living in the tenements; they are stereotyped as "filthy and illiterate" and stinking of "fish and garlic"(Ragtime 13). But Tateh deplores the antithesis of his impoverished existence, the upper and Bourgeois class. "[He] was a socialist. He looked at the palaces and his heart was outraged"(Ragtime 14). His socialist views even lead him to join a strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts where he is actually overjoyed with the prospect of being "shot to death" rather than merely starving or freezing to death(Ragtime. 101). Tateh's life, though, seems paradoxical, for he despises the rich but at the same time wishes to gain wealth. He also shows disdain towards "native" Americans, which is tested in the beginning of the novel when Evelyn Nesbitt befriends his daughter. One day, she appears at his apartment door, and he reluctantly lets her in. "Tateh was scandalized by her visit...In great agitation he smoked a cigarette, in the European style"(Ragtime 40-41).
At this point, Tateh's philosophical beliefs and original identity are intact, not yet affected by wealth or success. But as his American dream begins to take shape, both of these essential aspects of Tateh's life