U.S.A. (trilogy)

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First complete edition (1937)

AuthorJohn Dos Passos
CountryUnited States
GenreModernist, Political fiction
PublisherModern Library
Media typeHardcover
No. of books3

The U.S.A. trilogy is a series of three novels by American writer John Dos Passos, comprising the novels The 42nd Parallel (1930), Nineteen Nineteen (1932) and The Big Money (1936). The books were first published together in a volume titled U.S.A. by Modern Library in 1937.

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

Main characters[edit]

  • Mac (Fainy McCreary) – A wandering printer, train-hopping newspaperman, and 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, influential public relations 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 designer, Eleanor's long-time friend and rival
  • Ben Compton – A law student and labor activist/revolutionary
  • Mary French – Dedicated labor activist and journalist
  • Margo Dowling – Attractive, cagey and adventurous, eventually a Hollywood actress



In his contemporary commentary on The 42nd Parallel and Nineteen Nineteen, Michael Gold noted their qualities as extensions of Dos Passos' techniques in his earlier novel Manhattan Transfer, and described these novels as "one of the first collective novels".[1] Stanley Corkin has specifically expostulated The 42nd Parallel in the context of readings of Hegelian Marxism with respect to the particular historical time of the novel.[2] Arnold Goldman has commented on the "progressive disenfranchisement" of Dos Passos from 20th century America in the trilogy.[3] Justin Edwards has discussed the use of cinematic techniques in The Big Money.[4] Donald Pizer has discoursed in detail on the passage 'only words against POWER SUPERPOWER' in The Big Money.[5]

Janet Galligani Casey has analysed Dos Passos' treatment and development of the growth of his female characters in the trilogy.[6] Stephen Lock has examined the cinematic ideas behind Dos Passos' use of the 'Camera Eye' sections.[7]

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 his/her 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. It also influenced Jean-Paul Sartre's trilogy The Roads to Freedom.[citation needed]

Political context[edit]

The trilogy was written in the period when Dos Passos placed himself unequivocally on the political Left,[citation needed] before the major political shift which characterized his later career. Dos Passos portrays the everyday situations of the characters before, during, and after World War I, 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 book depicts with considerable sympathy the activists of the Industrial Workers of the World. It is more reserved with regard to the American Communist Party which took the fore in the American Radical Left after the First World War; though some Communists are depicted sympathetically, there are seen caught up in the increasing bureaucratization of the party. The book expresses an obvious animosity to President Woodrow Wilson, depicting in detail his suppression of internal dissent during and immediately after WWI.


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.[8] Howard Sackler also adapted it for a well-received 1968 audio production with Caedmon Books.[9] Neil Peart of Rush was inspired by the trilogy to write the lyrics for the song "The Camera Eye" released on their Moving Pictures album in 1981. Margaret Bonds also collaborated with Dos Passos and wrote a musical theater work set to U.S.A. in 1959.


Dos Passos added a prologue with the title "U.S.A." to The Modern Library edition of The 42nd Parallel and the same plates were used by Harcourt Brace for the trilogy.[10]: 1254  Houghton Mifflin issued two boxed three-volume sets in 1946 with color endpapers and illustrations by Reginald Marsh.[10]: 1256  The first illustrated edition was limited to 365 copies, 350 signed by both Dos Passos and Marsh in a deluxe binding with leather labels and beveled boards.[11][12] 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 the spine and front cover.[13] The illustrated edition was reprinted in various bindings until the Library of America edition appeared in 1996, 100 years after Dos Passos' birth.[12][13]


  1. ^ Gold, Michael (February 1933). "The Education of John Dos Passos". The English Journal. 22 (2): 87–97. doi:10.2307/804561. JSTOR 804561.
  2. ^ Corkin, Stanley (Fall 1992). "John Dos Passos and the American Left: Recovering the Dialectic of History". Criticism. 34 (4): 591–611. JSTOR 23113524.
  3. ^ Goldman, Arnold (Spring 1970). "Dos Passos and His U.S.A.". New Literary History. 1 (3): 471–483. doi:10.2307/468267. JSTOR 468267.
  4. ^ Edwards, Justin (1999). "The Man with a Camera Eye: Cinematic Form and Hollywood Malediction in John Dos Passos's The Big Money". Literature/Film Quarterly. 27 (4): 245–254. JSTOR 468267.
  5. ^ Pizer, Donald (1985). "The "only words against POWER SUPERPOWER" Passage in John Dos Passos' The Big Money". The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America. 79 (3): 427–434. doi:10.1086/pbsa.79.3.24303666. JSTOR 24303666. S2CID 163967414.
  6. ^ Casey, Janet Galligani (2005). ""Stories Told Sideways Out of the Big Mouth": Dos Passos's Bazinian Camera Eye". Literature/Film Quarterly. 33 (1): 20–27. JSTOR 43797207.
  7. ^ Lock, Stephen (Autumn 1995). "Historicizing the Female in U.S.A.: Re-Visions of Dos Passos's Trilogy". Twentieth Century Literature. 41 (3): 249–264. doi:10.2307/441851. JSTOR 441851.
  8. ^ Shyre, Paul; Dos Passos, John (1960). USA: A Dramatic Revue. Samuel French. ISBN 9780573617362. Retrieved 18 September 2014.
  9. ^ Sackler, Howard. "42nd Parallel Radio Production, 1/6". SoundCloud. Retrieved 18 September 2014.
  10. ^ a b Dos Passos, John (1896–1970). U.S.A. Daniel Aaron & Townsend Ludington, eds. New York: Library of America, 1996. (chronology)
  11. ^ LCCN 47-846 and OCLC 1 870 524
  12. ^ a b bookseller descriptions: copies for sale, December 2010, at ABEbooks, Alibris, Amazon, Biblio and elsewhere
  13. ^ a b personal copies of both editions