John Dos Passos was a reporter of sorts. His wealthy lawyer/lobbyist father waited for a divorce from his first wife before he could begin a new family with little Johnny. But it was never quite picture perfect–John remained an outsider, and thankfully so.
I read The 42nd Parallel a couple of months ago. Dos Passos wrote 1919 in 1932, two years after completing his first installment, and The Big Money four years later. Although these novels comprise a trilogy, I feel it’s appropriate to space out my reading of them–it helps to see Dos Passos’ development as a writer.
The Modern Library ranked this masterpiece twenty-three on its list of best novels, although I may dare to put it higher on my personal list of classic literature.
Its scope is expansive. It delves deep into human psychology, captures the essence of the historical moment, and alludes to a wide range of events, ideas, and definitions–Dos Passos’ vocabulary is huge, he frequently creates words by fusing them together, without hyphenating as you would a kenning.
He’s clearly a modernist, as exemplified by his use of stream of consciousness which bookends each chapter, but the actual headlines in “The Camera’s Eye,” and the myriad subjectivities he explores, places him at the forefront of great American writers. His historical integrity can be seen in the New Journalism of postmodernism, and as such, I think we can uphold his style with Hemingway’s blunt fierceness and Fitzgerald’s poetic romanticism as a major current in the deep waters of American literature.
Written by: Tiffani Hopkinson