Rousing the Nation: Radical Culture in Depression America

By Laura Browder | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
DOS PASSOS ISSUES A CHALLENGE Can Language Make A Revolution?

Although many radical writers were involved in the debate over the shape the new literature should take, it was John Dos Passos who, in his U.S.A. trilogy, most clearly identified both the literary forms that could no longer be effective in a time of crisis and, in his own trilogy, the form that could work.

Between 1930 and 1933 John Dos Passos published the three volumes-- The 42nd Parallel ( 1930), Nineteen Nineteen ( 1932), and The Big Money ( 1933)--that would appear, with the addition of the hitherto unpublished introductory sketch "U.S.A." as an assembled trilogy, U.S.A. The trilogy's scope is vastly ambitious, not only in subject matter but in aesthetic terms: Among the techniques Dos Passos uses to describe America during the first three decades of this century are stream-of-consciousness autobiographical passages, capsule biographies of notable inventors, more traditional narratives which are interwoven with one another in nearly Tolstoian terms, and "Newsreels" composed of montages of newspaper headlines, popular songs, and news fragments.

The U.S.A. trilogy, with its depiction of characters ranging from Wobblies to public relations magnates, from radical journalists to Harvard-educated aesthetes, has been seen by many critics as the great historical narrative of American life in the first decades of this century. As Donald Pizer notes, "Dos Passos had in the late 1920s already begun to characterize himself as a 'historian' of American life, and he was to use this designation for the remainder of his career."1U.S.A., as Melvin Landsberg notes, can certainly be considered

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