The True Modern American Novel Essay

1799 words - 8 pages

In the beginning of the twentieth century, writers and artists alike broke away from the traditional convention of representing life as we know it. Instead of mirroring our world in the same way that we perceive it, writers began to shift these perspectives, generating fresh new ways of characterizing our society. One writer who resembles the modernist era in making it new is John Dos Passos. In his trilogy U.S.A, Dos Passos shows us the disjointed life of American history through his modern modes of representation. Although he does depict realistic characters in a naturalist environment, Dos Passos ruptures traditional conventions through his unique way of narration, fragmented ...view middle of the document...

Although many of the main characters meet, some of them have no relation towards any of the other characters as Melvin Landsberg describes, “He wrote of a changing society, with its inventors, profiteers, reformers, revolutionists, trimmers, and victims” (2). Dos Passos presents these fragments as a representation of history being a fragment of people’s lives that are filled with famous people such as revolutionists like Gene Debs and also normal people such as a decorator, Eleanor Stoddard. He writes the United States’ history not as “moving by progression of character and incident, but rather as a montage of people and activity” (Wagner 86).
In addition to revolutionizing narrative forms, Dos Passos also breaks from traditional conventions in his representation of time. Unlike many other predictable stories, Dos Passos does not have a linear sequence of events. His reader is stuck in a world wind of confusion as it isn’t always clear where or when things are taking place. Although the reader may get some sense of the time period and the current events seen through the News Reels, time is ultimately an illusion as the events that happen between the characters appear in no orderly fashion or have no connection towards each other. As Satre describes, “Each event is irreducible, a gleaming and solitary thing that does not flow from anything else, but suddenly arise to join other things” (“John Dos Passos 1919” 63). The characters stories seem to come out of nowhere and over the course of the novel have no real end. It is unclear to the reader where the narrator ends up and sometimes the characters in the narratives vanish from the book entirely without explanation.
Time in U.S.A. is unpredictable and as Claude-Edmonde Magny describes time is a “the transmission belt in the heart of a factory-invisible, omnipresent, all-powerful” (“Time in Dos Passos” 133). These narratives end and start abruptly just as similar to representing the people in our lives and how they manage to vanish without us consciously knowing what happened to them. Dos Passos ground-breaking way of representing time is an ingenious modern convention.
Furthermore, Dos Passos represents memory in an extremely modernist way. He shows memory in its true form as a stream of consciousness. His characters remember or tell their stories in ways that have no chronological sequence. There is no way of knowing what the characters mean by two weeks or even two years. He shows these memories as fragments as readers are suddenly placed into places like cabs without any explanation of how or why they got there. These memories tend to lack sentence structure, punctuation and grammar, “thoughts, bulletholes in an old barn abandoned mine pits black skeleton tipple weedgrown dumps who were the Maguires?” (Dos Passos 86). Mostly seen through his narrative convention called Camera Eyes, Dos Passos shows us the inside of the brain without filtering anything out. Dos Passos revolutionizes the...

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