Dos Passos, John. (1896 - 1970).
L i f e
- an illegitimate son of an American mother and a Portuguese father
- youth: sympathised with communism x middle age: disenchanted, became an anticommunist
- extensively travelled throughout his whole life > inspired his travel books and essays from Portuguese, Spain, and Brazil
= a metaphor for the rootlessness of the modern technological society
W o r k
- wrote poetry, modernist plays, and travel books
- interested in literary aestheticism and reform politics
- concerned with the transformation of American society from a predominantly rural, agricultural, and traditional society into an increasingly urban, industrial, commercial, secular, and disoriented one
One Man's Initiation, 1917 (1920) and Three Soldiers (1921):
- the disillusioning impact of WW I on the young sensitive American soldiers
Manhattan Transfer (1925):
- the impact of the WW I on the emerging urban and technological civilisation
- his characteristic tone: an intermixture of protest and despair x hope
- a film-based composition technique: flashes, cut-backs, and speed
- narrative shifts and jumps with an absence of transitions = the stark contrasts and abrupt changes of urban life
< reminiscent of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Ezra Pound’s Cantos, and Hart Crane’s The Bridge
> The 42nd Parallel (1930)
> 1919 (1932)
> The Big Money (1936)
- trilogy: a combination of innovative language and technique x a detailed survey of the contemporary history and politics
- a vast sweep of settings and characters from the pre-war years to 1936: farmhands and factory labourers, hoboes and vagabonds, advertising executives and Hollywood actresses, entrepreneurs and financiers
- the central conflict: the conflict between the ‘two nations’ = a small group of the rich and powerful, successfully manipulating a large group of the poor
- includes individual stories of 11 major characters and supplemental devices:
(a) ‘Newsreel: headlines and snippets of articles from newspapers, slogans, mottoes, and songs; pieces from public reports, and political oratory
(b) ‘Camera Eye’: subjective feelings, sometimes lyrical, sometimes elegiac, sometimes satiric, sometimes angry, and sometimes threatening
(c) 27 biographical sketches of prominent public figures: politician Woodrow Wilson, inventor Thomas Edison, financier John Pierpont Morgan, etc.
District of Columbia (1952):
> The Adventures of a Young Man (1952)
> Number One (1943)
> The Grand Design (1949)
= a political trilogy
- concerned respectively with 1) disillusionment with the Spanish Civil War, 2) political corruption, 3) and the New Deal bureaucracy
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons).
AuthorJohn (Roderigo) Dos Passos. (1896 - 1970). American.
WorkNovelist. Playwright. Poet. Author of U.S.A. (1937).
GenresModernism. Social and political writing. History. Travel writing.
Baym, Nina, ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995.
Bercovitch, Sacvan, ed. The Cambridge History of American Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Cunliffe, Marcus. The Literature of the United States. London: Penguin, 1991.
Lauter, Paul, ed. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Lexington: D. C. Heath, 1994.
McQuade, Donald, gen.ed. The Harper American Literature. New York: Harper & Collins, 1996.
Ruland, Richard, Malcolm Bradbury. Od puritanismu k postmodernismu. Praha: Mladá fronta, 1997.
Vančura, Zdeněk, ed. Slovník spisovatelů: Spojené státy americké. Praha: Odeon, 1979.
His History Books
For Dos Passos, the States kept on representing the best hope for progress in the corrupt world:
The Living Thoughts of Tom Paine (1940)
The Ground We Stand On (1941)
The Head and Heart of Thomas Jefferson (1954)
"We work to eat to get the strength to work to eat to get the strength to work to eat to get the strength to work to eat to get the strength to work".
From Strikers in Airways (1929).