“Escape”: Ragtime and American National Identity in the Process of “Mobility”

saiyide HUI


Ragtime represents the difficult transformation of the modern national identity of American. Doctorow portrays early twentieth-century American society in the process of modernization as an “era of mobility”, and uses the magician Houdini’s “escape” as a lead to connect a series of “escapes” of many characters, which not only deconstructs the “myth of progress” but also shows that the American nation has lost its “center” of cohesion. By using the fluid representation of “escape”, Doctorow conveys a double reflection on the identity of the American nation: first, he denies the significance of “escape” for the construction of cultural identity. On the other hand, he recognizes the pragmatic values and conciliatory political attitude contained in “escape” as a roundabout and resourceful survival strategy, and reshapes the ideal of “melting pot”, revealing an optimistic outlook on American national identity, and ultimately calling for a hybrid and integrative American national identity.


E. L. Doctorow; Ragtime; Escape; Mobility; American national identity

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3968/13151


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