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U.S.A. Trilogy  
Author John Dos Passos
Country United States
Language English
Publisher Library of America
Media type Hardcover
Pages 1312 pages
ISBN 978-1883011147
OCLC Number 33819088
Dewey Decimal 813/.52 20
LC Classification PS3507.O743 A6 1996

The U.S.A. Trilogy is the major work of American writer John Dos Passos, comprising the novels The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919, also known as Nineteen Nineteen (1932), and The Big Money (1936). The three books were first published together as a one-volume edition in 1938, to which the author added the prologue labeled "U.S.A." The trilogy employs an experimental technique, incorporating four different narrative modes: fictional narratives telling the life stories of twelve fictional characters; collages of newspaper clippings and song lyrics labeled "Newsreel"; individually labeled short biographies of public figures of the time such as Woodrow Wilson and Henry Ford; and fragments of autobiographical stream of consciousness writing labeled "Camera Eye." The trilogy covers the historical development of American society during the first three decades of the twentieth century.

The four narrative modes

In the fictional narrative sections, the U.S.A. trilogy relates the lives of twelve different characters as they struggle to find a place in American society during the early part of the twentieth century. Each character is presented to the reader from their childhood on and in free indirect speech. While their lives are quite separate and distinct, characters occasionally meet and interact with each other; also, some minor characters whose own point of view is never given crop up again and again in the background, forming a kind of bridge between the different characters.

"The Camera Eye" sections are written in stream-of-consciousness technique and add up to an autobiographical Künstlerroman of Dos Passos, tracing the author's development from a child to a politically committed writer. Camera Eye 50 arguably contains the most famous line of the whole trilogy, when Dos Passos states upon the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti: "all right we are two nations."

The "Newsreels" consist of front page headlines and article fragments from the Chicago Tribune for The 42nd Parallel and the New York World for Nineteen Nineteen and The Big Money, as well as lyrics from popular songs of the time. Newsreel 66, for example, immediately preceding Camera Eye 50 and announcing the Sacco and Vanzetti verdict, contains the lyrics of "The Internationale."

The biographies are accounts of historical figures. The most often anthologized of these biographies is "The Body of an American," which tells the story of an unknown soldier who fell in World War I which concludes Nineteen Nineteen.

However, the separation between these narrative modes is rather a stylistic than a thematic one. Thus, some critics have pointed out connections between the fictional character Mary French in The Big Money and journalist Mary Heaton Vorse, calling into question the strict separation between fictional characters and biographies; and coherent quotes from newspaper articles are often woven into the biographies as well, calling into question the strict separation between them and the "Newsreel" sections.



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