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Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)



First Advisor

Clair C. Olson


For several reasons Dos Passos is important to the development of American literature. His novels, with their integrity, breadth, and architectonic form, are painted on a larger canvas than any other American writers. In Manhattan Transfer, his fourth novel, he attempted to portray the greatest metropolis in the world, New York City. He succeeded as well as anyone ever has. Then, refusing to rest on his cars, he went on to the trilogy U. S. A., which takes all of twentieth century American life as its subject. This is Dos Passos' epic of modern Americanlife, the most successful of the many attempts to write the "great American novel". So the vert scope and excellence of Dos Passos' novels demand consideration Then there are technical innovations--tentative in Manhattan Transfer, thoroughgoing in U. S. A.--which have added dimensions to the American novel. Some of these are entirely original, some stem from James Joyce's Ulysses. Yet even the borrowed devices have been completely assimilated. These new techniques arose partly because of the feeling that naturalism gave an inadequate picture of all aspects of humanity. And, as the critic Edmund Wilson has shown, Joyce met this problem by a synthesis of the two French literary methods, symbolism and naturalism. Now Dos Passos has introduced this symbolism-naturalism into American literature. And he has democratized the experimental techniques; Joyce is read mainly by literary experts; Dos Passos can be read by anyone. If, as some believe, the importance of this amalgamation of symbolism and naturalism lies in the future, then Dos Passos will be remembered as the first American writer to use it.

While Dos Passos has always been in the vanguard, his relations with his generation have been intimate and pervasive. In many ways he is more typical of his generation than any other significant writer. The Zeitgeist of the War generation is fundamental to all his books. He is both a result and a cause of America's coming of age--and the defeat of neo-Humanism. Even the development of his political ideas has in many ways paralleled the ideas of other writers, For instance, his disillusionment in the radical parties contained in Adventures of a Young (1939) came to nearly all writers later in the same year with the Russian-German pact, Thus, though Dos Passos was an innovator, neither his internal development as an artist nor his contribution to American literature can be understood except in the context of his age. This is to be, then, a study of the interrelations between Dos Passos' personal philosophy, objectives, and techniques and the influence of the Zeitgeist on them.





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