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John Roderigo Dos Passos

Dos Passos, John Roderigo, 1896–1970, American novelist, b. Chicago, grad. Harvard, 1916. He subsequently studied in Spain and served as a World War I ambulance driver in France and Italy. In his fiction, Dos Passos is said to have mingled the naturalism of Theodore Dreiser with the modernism of James Joyce. His first successful novel, Three Soldiers (1921), belonged to the group of socially conscious novels of disillusionment that appeared after the war. With Manhattan Transfer (1925) his major creative period began. Intertwining accounts of a succession of unrelated characters, the novel presents a composite picture of the meaninglessness and decadence of the life of the typical early 1920s New Yorker. In his finest achievement, the trilogy U.S.A. (1937), composed of The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), and The Big Money (1936), he developed the kaleidoscopic technique introduced in Manhattan Transfer. By skillfully weaving together narration, stream of consciousness, biographies of representative figures, and quotations from newspapers and magazines, Dos Passos portrayed the first three decades of the 20th cent. in America.

After U.S.A. the radical left-wing views that strongly colored his earlier works gave way to a conservative social philosophy. In his second trilogy, District of Columbia (1952), which includes Adventures of a Young Man (1939), Number One (1943), and The Grand Design (1949), he defended many of the principles he had previously criticized. In general, his later works lack the power and cohesion of his earlier novels, although Midcentury (1961) again skillfully presents the conflicts of contemporary society. His nonfiction works include Tour of Duty (1946), Men Who Made the Nation (1957), Mr. Wilson's War (1963), and Easter Island: Island of Enigmas (1971).

See T. Ludington, ed., The Fourteenth Chronicle: Letters and Diaries of John Dos Passos (1973); Dos Passos' autobiographical The Best Times (1967); biographies by T. Ludington (1980, repr. 1998) and V. S. Carr (1984); studies by L. W. Wagner (1979), M. Clark (1987), B. Maine, ed. (1988), L. Nanney (1998), and D. Harding (2003).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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