U.S.A., The 42nd Parallel, Nineteen Nineteen, The Big Money, Manhattan Transfer
a trilogy of novels by John Dos Passos, first published in a single volume in 1938. U.S.A. comprises three novels that were separately published: The 42nd Parallel (1930); Nineteen Nineteen (1932); and The Big Money (1936). Dos Passos had as his objective a panoramic depiction of American life in the first thirty years of the twentieth century and the scale of his endeavour forced him to refine and enlarge the narrative techniques he had employed in earlier novels, such as Manhattan Transfer (1925), where he had successfully mixed fiction with documentary fact. In U.S.A. three fictional devices are used: the narrative elements, which are fifty-two in number and concentrate on the lives of twelve major characters (many of whom appear in more than one novel), are ‘punctuated’ by ‘Newsreel’ and ‘Camera Eye’ sections, the former montages of newspaper headlines, advertisements in shops or on billboards, and popular songs, the latter largely made up of autobiographical reminiscence or authorial commentary on public events. The three novels, in part, record the shifting moods of Dos Passos's political leanings: the first two volumes evince his commitment to a socialist understanding of American society and the concomitant attractions of Marxism while the third volume shows the influence of the American sociologist Thorstein Veblen and his theories of ‘conspicuous consumption’ and the creation of a ‘leisure class’. U.S.A. presents certain preliminary difficulties for the uninitiated reader of Dos Passos, but it remains one of the most remarkable technical achievements in modern American literature. Dos Passos' Path to ‘U.S.A’: A Political Biography, 1912–1936 (1972), by Melvin Landsberg, is valuable for its reading of the novel in the light of the evolution of Dos Passos's politics.