Manhattan Transfer (novel)

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First edition cover
(Harper & Brothers)

Manhattan Transfer is an American novel by John Dos Passos published in 1925. It focuses on the development of urban life in New York City from the Gilded Age to the Jazz Age as told through a series of overlapping individual stories.

It is considered to be one of Dos Passos' most important works. The book attacks the consumerism and social indifference of contemporary urban life, portraying a Manhattan that is merciless yet teeming with energy and restlessness. The book shows some of Dos Passos' experimental writing techniques and narrative collages that would become more pronounced in his U.S.A. trilogy and other later works. The technique in Manhattan Transfer was inspired in part by James Joyce's Ulysses (1922), T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, and bears frequent comparison to the experiments with film collage by Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein.

Sinclair Lewis described it as "a novel of the very first importance ... The dawn of a whole new school of writing." D. H. Lawrence called it "the best modern book about New York" he had ever read, describing it as "a very complete film ... of the vast loose gang of strivers and winners and losers which seems to be the very pep of New York." In a blurb for a European edition, Ernest Hemingway wrote that, alone among American writers, Dos Passos has "been able to show to Europeans the America they really find when they come here."[1]


William Brevda has analysed the theme and symbolism of signs, such as in advertising, in the novel.[2] William Dow has examined the influence of the works of Blaise Cendrars on the novel.[3] Gene Ruoff has looked at the theme of social mobility with respect to artists in the novel.[4] Phillip Arrington has critiqued the ambiguity of the novel's ending.[5]

Josef Grmela has noted artistic similarities between Manhattan Transfer and the U.S.A. Trilogy.[6] David Viera has noted similarities between Manhattan Transfer and Angústia by Graciliano Ramos.[7] Gretchen Foster has examined the influence of cinema techniques on the form of the novel.[8] Michael Spindler has analysed the influence of visual arts on the novel.[9]

In popular culture[edit]

A copy of the book appears on the album cover of Have You Considered Punk Music? by the punk band Self Defense Family[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Desmond Harding (1 June 2004). Writing the City: Urban Visions and Literary Modernism. Routledge. p. 176. ISBN 978-1-135-94747-7.
  2. ^ Brevda, William (Spring 1996). "How Do I Get to Broadway? Reading Dos Passos's Manhattan Transfer Sign". Texas Studies in Literature and Language. 38 (1): 79–114. JSTOR 40755091.
  3. ^ Dow, William (Autumn 1996). "John Dos Passos, Blaise Cendrars, and the "Other" Modernism". Twentieth Century Literature. 42 (3): 396–415. JSTOR 441770.
  4. ^ Ruoff, Gene W. (Winter–Spring 1964). "Social Mobility and the Artist in Manhattan Transfer and The Music of Time". Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature. 5 (1): 64–76. JSTOR 1207122.
  5. ^ Arrington, Philip (October 1982). "The Sense of an Ending in Manhattan Transfer". American Literature. 54 (3): 438–443. doi:10.2307/2925854. JSTOR 1207122.
  6. ^ Dow, William (1981). "On the Place of Manhattan Transfer in the Development of John Dos Passos". Angol Filológiai Tanulmányok / Hungarian Studies in English. 14: 37–46. JSTOR 41273777.
  7. ^ Viera, David J. (September 1984). "Wastelands and Backlands: John Dos Passos' Manhattan Transfer and Graciliano Ramos' Angústia". Hispania. 67 (3): 377–382. doi:10.2307/342105. JSTOR 342105.
  8. ^ Foster, Gretchen (1986). "John Dos Passos' Use of Film Technique in Manhattan Transfer & The 42nd Parallel". Literature/Film Quarterly. 14 (3): 186–194. JSTOR 43796267.
  9. ^ Spindler, Michael (December 1981). "John Dos Passos and the Visual Arts". Journal of American Studies. 15 (3): 391–405. doi:10.1017/s0021875800008926. JSTOR 27554033.
  10. ^ "Have You Considered Punk Music?". Bandcamp.