17 May 2013
Dos Passos’ Modes of Presentation
One thing that makes John Dos Passos’ U.S.A. trilogy – The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money – stand out from the works of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and other Lost Generation writers is his use of form. Dos Passos successfully blends fiction with nonfiction through an experimental technique that he uses in the U.S.A. trilogy. This experimental technique uses four distinctive modes of presentation: the Newsreel, the Camera Eye, biographical portraits, and a number of personal narratives. At first glance the modes that Dos Passos incorporated into the three novels do not seem to make a whole lot of sense because the content itself does not seem to be organized. Some of the modes lack proper punctuation and capitalization; the context is intermingled and seems to not have any sort of structure; and some lines are broken in the middle of a sentence. However, all of the modes serve the purpose of covering the historical development of American society at the beginning of the twentieth century, specifically during the first three decades. Through his usage of the Newsreel, the Camera Eye, and biographical portraits in the U.S.A. trilogy, Dos Passos is able to skillfully bring out dominant themes that challenge the quality of the American experience in The Big Money.
Dos Passos is able to evoke events and moods of the past years through his first mode of presentation called the Newsreel. The timeline of the story is set up in the Newsreel through a collage of newspaper headlines, political oratory, and popular songs that were used during the first three decades of the twentieth century (Beal, n. pag.). Headlines from Newsreel LXVIII includes titles like “WALL STREET STUNNED,” “MOSCOW CONGRESS OUSTS OPPOSITION,” “MILL THUGS IN MURDER RAID,” “RED PICKETS FINED FOR PROTEST HERE,” and “PRESIDENT SEES PROPERITY NEAR” (Dos Passos, “The Big” 691-93). The political oratory from this section is harder to interpret as the reader is not certain who stated the words. However, just by examining the context, the reader can put the pieces together and pinpoint the timeline of the story as the oratories focus on labor strikes, the negative aspects of imperialist propaganda, and the actions of President Calvin Coolidge (Dos Passos, “The Big” 691-93). Popular songs used in this particular Newsreel include the majority of the lyrics from a song titled “Wreck of the Old ‘97” and excerpts from a Socialist labor-union protest song (Dos Passos, “The Big” 691-92). In addition to setting up the timeline of the story, the content and form of the Newsreel also show how inconsistent America’s public image of itself can be. Right away the reader can recognize that the contents of the Newsreel lack proper capitalization and punctuation as well as organization and a chronological order. The capitalization and punctuation of the Newsreel fluctuates. The newspaper headlines lack punctuation and all letters are capitalized. The political oratories, for the most part, are lowercase and the punctuation tends to vary. The popular songs used throughout the Newsreel are in italics and lack punctuation. Furthermore, the Newsreel is unorganized as the content intermingles with each other, showing no signs of a chronological order (Dos Passos, “The Big” 691-93). This suggests that Dos Passos did this on purpose to depict the struggles America faced during this particular time period.
The next mode of presentation is the Camera Eye, which captures critical moments of Dos Passos’ life and expresses his identification with America. This mode appears to be subjective because it is an impressionistic autobiography. In this portion of the trilogy, according to Robert Gorham Davis in his examination of Dos Passos’ writing, Dos Passos “expresses his most personal and nostalgic identification with the country” (Davis 31). Davis writes that Dos Passos...
Cited: Beal, Wesley. “Narration in John Dos Passos’s U.S.A. Trilogy.” Digital Humanities Quarterly
5.2 (2011): n. pag. Web. 13 May 2013.
Davis, Robert Gorham. John Dos Passos. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1962.
JDH Library Catalog. Web. 13 May 2013.
Dos Passos, John. The Big Money. New York: Signet Classic, 1979. Print.
Dos Passos, John. “The Big Money.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Volume D:
1914-1945. Ed. Nina Baym and Robert S. Levine. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 690-694. Print.
Ludington, Townsend. “The Ordering of the Camera Eye in U.S.A.” American Literature 49.3
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