Three Soldiers • Manhattan Transfer • The U.S.A. Trilogy: The 42nd Parallel, 1919, The Big Money
Drawing on his experiences while serving as an ambulance driver in World War I, John Dos Passos produced in the novel Three Soldiers a disillusioned view of the war and the military that established him as an important voice of a new American literary generation. In Manhattan Transfer he deployed multiple viewpoints to create a densely detailed portrait of the modern city. Pushing his experimentation further he created his masterwork, the trilogy U.S.A., a panoramic account of America in the first third of the twentieth century, fusing interconnected fictional narratives, biographical portraits of public figures, newsreels and impressionistic sketches into a uniquely ambitious prose epic that continues to impart a gripping sense of a society caught up in immense and overpowering social change.
“In the meantime, whatever diagnosis we may make of Dos Passos’s infatuation with the social revolution, he remains one of the few first-rate figures among our writers of his generation, and the only one of these who has made a systematic effort to study all the aspects of America and to take account of all its elements, to compose them into a picture which makes some general sense. Most of the first-rate men of Dos Passos’s age—Hemingway, Wilder, Fitzgerald—cultivate their own little corners and do not confront the situation as a whole. Only Dos Passos has tried to take hold of it.”
—Edmund Wilson (1929)
The Big MoneyJohn Dos Passos
The young man waits on the side of the road; the plane has gone; thumb moves in a small arc when a car tears hissing past. Eyes seek the driver’s eyes. A hundred miles down the road. Head swims, belly tightens, wants crawl over his skin like ants:
went to school, books said opportunity, ads promised speed, own your home, shine bigger than your neighbor, the radiocrooner whispered girls, ghosts of platinum girls coaxed from the screen, millions in winnings were chalked up on the boards in the offices, paychecks were for hands willing to work, the cleared desk of an executive with three telephones on it;
waits with swimming head, needs knot the belly; idle hands numb, beside the speeding traffic.
A hundred miles down the road.