- Emma's Touch: Capitalism, the Body and the Interruption of America's "Golden Moment" in Doctorow's Ragtime
- Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 73, Number 1, Spring 2017
- pp. 113-133
- View Citation
- Additional Information
This essay investigates how the 1974 novel Ragtime illuminates the possibility for progressive political change in early-twentieth-century America, exposing how white supremacist capitalism actively blocked feminist and anti-racist activism. By including historical figures like Harry Houdini, Emma Goldman, and others, the novel recovers voices silenced in the dominant story of American exceptionalism. This analysis compares Houdini's theatrics of escape with Goldman's politics of touch to argue for the limitations of the former and the liberatory potential of the latter for those suffering under misogynist capitalism. This essay also examines how white men in the novel are similarly diminished by discourse encouraging an impossible identification with an impenetrable and emotionally defunct version of white masculinity. This essay reads Ragtime as a novel that exposes and critiques how racist and misogynist narratives are woven together with capitalist discourse to commodify and oppress people in physically and psychically disfiguring ways.