At the time of its composition, Golliwoggs were in fashion, due partly to the popularity at that time of the novels of Florence Kate Upton ("golliwog" is a later usage). They were stuffed black dolls with red pants, red bow ties and wild hair, somewhat reminiscent of the black-face minstrels of the time. This is a ragtime piece with its syncopations and banjo-like effects.
The B section of this dance is interrupted on several occasions by the love-death leitmotif of Richard Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde. Each quotation is followed with banjo imitations.
The cakewalk was a dance or a strut and the dancer with the most elaborate steps won a cake ("took the cake").