Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

An Althusserian Reading of John Dos Passos' the 42nd Parallel, the First Volume of the Trilogy U.S.A

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

An Althusserian Reading of John Dos Passos' the 42nd Parallel, the First Volume of the Trilogy U.S.A

Article excerpt


This paper discusses the devastating effects of the State ideology-enforced through multiple ISAs and RSAson the lives of individuals; as a matter of fact it aims to investigate such impacts on the lives of members of the working class. In this work of research, the main focus of attention is to show how ideology plays the dominant role in the lives and fates of members of the mentioned class and how ultimately those members are incarcerated in the impossible walls of ideological determination, to the extent that failure, loss, marginality, and frustration are the most noteworthy lifetime experiences of such individuals. The ideologically-stricken American society of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century are-as described by Dos Passos in his The 42nd Parallel-the center of attention in this study.

The researcher has tried to depict how such deterministic forces influence the lives of individuals from the very beginning stages of their lives; how individuals, lacking free will, lose their identity and simply turn into subjects of the State ideology. In addition to the fictional instances taken from the work under study, the researcher has included historical facts and figures regarding the unavoidable reigning of the ideology, and this attempt makes this study original and novel. In fact this work depicts one of the main characters' (Mac) odyssey toward his meaningless destiny, produced and directed by ideology and its supporting institutions.

Key words: Ideology; ISA; RSA; Individualism; Subject; Interpellation; Overdetermination


John Dos Passos's major work, the U.S.A trilogy that consists of three novels The 42nd Parallel (1930), Nineteen-Nineteen (1932), and The Big Money (1936). It is a widely accepted verdict among the critics that Dos Passos's reputation as an acknowledged author is mainly based on this early trilogy. John Roderigo Dos Passos experienced many national and international historical landmarks throughout his life, which among them are: the turn of the century, the First World War, the American Great Depression, and even the Vietnamese War. Born in Chicago-on January 4, 1896-he was the illegitimate son of John Randolph Dos Passos a notable New York lawyer and lobbyist and a wealthy Virginian lady; Lucy Madison. He was not acknowledged by his father up until he was twenty years old, and quite exactly one year before his father's death. He graduated from Harvard University in 1916,and a year after that he moved to Spain to Study the Spanish culture and architecture. During the First World War, he served as an ambulance driver in the Norton- Harjes Ambulance Unit-the same organization for which Hemingway and E. E. Cummings drove-in Spain, Italy, and France. Dos Passos's Wartime experiences deeply influenced his artistic career (especially his The Three Soldiers), and also in his masterpiece the U.S.A trilogy. He also worked as a newspaper correspondent during his seemingly endless European wanderings, which had great impacts on his later writing techniques and styles. He was very interested in sitting for a drink with total strangers and listening to their stories-especially member's of the working class-and as an intellectual he has strong leftist tendencies and admired and historically traced the fate of the working class:

The reticent writer was always disposed to the action. In the post war twenties,he managed time and again to place himself in history's hotspots-whether the literary scene in New York and Paris, revolutionary Mexico after the death of Emiliano Zapata,the newly Communist Soviet Union, or the nativist city of Boston, where he marched for the two imprisoned and condemned immigrant anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti (The 42nd Parallel, p.viii).

As a socialist intellectual, Dos Passos was aware of the course of the historical era he lived in, and constantly tried to depict the devastating functions of such institutionsboth ISAs and RSAs Althusserianly speaking-on the lives the individuals, especially those of the working class of the American society of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. …

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