U.S.A. (trilogy)

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Author John Dos Passos
Country United States
Language English
Publisher Library of America
Media type Hardcover
Pages 1312 pages
ISBN 978-1-883011-14-7
OCLC 33819088
813.52 20
LC Class PS3507.O743 A6 1996

The U.S.A. trilogy is a major work of American writer John Dos Passos, comprising the novels The 42nd Parallel (1930); 1919, (1932); and The Big Money (1936). The three books were first published together in a single volume titled U.S.A. by Harcourt Brace in January 1938. Dos Passos had added a prologue with the title "U.S.A." to The Modern Library edition of The 42nd Parallel published the previous November, and the same plates were used by Harcourt Brace for the trilogy.[1] Houghton Mifflin issued two boxed three-volume sets in 1946 with color endpapers and illustrations by Reginald Marsh.[2] The first illustrated edition was limited to 365 copies, 350 signed by both Dos Passos and Marsh,[3] in a deluxe binding with leather labels and beveled boards.[4] The binding for the larger 1946 trade issue was tan buckram with red spine lettering and the trilogy designation "U.S.A." printed in red over a blue rectangle on both the spine and front cover.[5] This illustrated edition was reprinted in various bindings[4] until the Library of America edition appeared in 1996, 100 years after Dos Passos' birth.[5]

The trilogy employs an experimental technique, incorporating four narrative modes: fictional narratives telling the life stories of twelve 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 20th century.

In 1998, the Modern Library ranked U.S.A. 23rd on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.

The four narrative modes[edit]

  • In the fictional narrative sections, the U.S.A. trilogy relates the lives of twelve characters as they struggle to find a place in American society during the early part of the 20th century. Each character is presented to the reader from their childhood on and in free indirect speech. While their lives are separate, characters occasionally meet. Some minor characters whose point of view is never given crop up in the background, forming a kind of bridge between the characters.
  • "The Camera Eye" sections are written in 'stream of consciousness' and are 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 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, the New York World for Nineteen Nineteen and The Big Money, as well as lyrics from popular songs. Newsreel 66, preceding Camera Eye 50, 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 was killed in World War I which concludes Nineteen Nineteen.

The separation between these narrative modes is rather a stylistic than a thematic one. 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. 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.

The fragmented narrative style of the trilogy later influenced the work of British science-fiction novelist John Brunner.


  • Mac (Fainy McCreary) - A wandering printer, train-hopping newspaperman, and a crusader for the working man
  • Janey Williams - A young stenographer from Washington, D.C. (assistant to Moorehouse)
  • Eleanor Stoddard - A cold, haughty young social climber
  • J. Ward Moorehouse - A slick, unscrupulous marketing man
  • Charley Anderson - A gullible, good-natured mechanic and flying ace
  • Joe Williams - A rugged, slow-witted sailor, brother of Janey Williams
  • Richard Ellsworth Savage - A Harvard graduate, employee of Moorehouse
  • Daughter (Anne Elizabeth Trent) - A spirited Texas belle and volunteer nurse
  • Eveline Hutchins - Artist and interior decorator, Eleanor Stoddard's protege
  • Ben Compton - A law student and labor activist/revolutionary
  • Mary French - Journalist and labor activist
  • Margo Dowling - Luscious, ambitious and uninhibited young Hollywood actress

Dos Passos portrays the everyday situations of the characters before, during, and after WWI, with special attention to the social and economic forces that drive them. Those characters who pursue "the big money" without scruple succeed, but are dehumanized by success. Others are destroyed, crushed by capitalism, and ground underfoot. Dos Passos does not show much sympathy for upwardly mobile characters who succeed, but is always sympathetic to the down and out victims of capitalist society. He explores the difficulty faced by winners and losers alike when trying to make a stable living for themselves as well as wanting to settle down in some means.


The novel has been adapted a number of times, for purposes such as radio and stage production. Paul Shyre created a "dramatic revue", working together with Dos Passos.[6] Howard Sackler also adapted it for a well-received 1968 audio production with Caedmon Books.[7]


  1. ^ Dos Passos, John (1896-1970). U.S.A. Daniel Aaron & Townsend Ludington, eds. New York: Library of America, 1996. chronology p.1254.
  2. ^ Dos Passos, John (1896-1970). U.S.A. Daniel Aaron & Townsend Ludington, eds. New York: Library of America, 1996. chronology p.1256.
  3. ^ LCCN: 47-846 and OCLC: 1 870 524
  4. ^ a b bookseller descriptions: copies for sale, December 2010, at ABEbooks, Alibris, Amazon, Biblio and elsewhere
  5. ^ a b personal copies of both editions
  6. ^ Shyre, Paul; Dos Passos, John (1960). USA: A Dramatic Revue. Samuel French. ISBN 9780573617362. Retrieved 18 September 2014. 
  7. ^ Sackler, Howard. "42nd Parallel Radio Production, 1/6". SoundCloud. Retrieved 18 September 2014.