Thesis

John Dos Passos: frameworks of America in modernity

In this thesis I closely examine the trilogy of U.S.A. by John Dos Passos, and demonstrate that it is a significant literary text of American Modernism. Modernism was an aesthetic movement of radical change in response to the transformation of social and cultural paradigms conditioned by historical events in the early twentieth century. As a movement, modernists wished to capture external forces and conditions by advocating reflective introspection in terms of textual representation that challenged previous literary conventions. A distinguishing text of that period is the U.S.A. trilogy, a culmination of three collective but distinct novels: The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), and The Big Money (1936). Using an interdisciplinary approach that incorporates modernist principles to supplement a psychoanalytical theory of language and "méconnaissances" (misrecognitions) developed by Jacques Lacan, I will argue that Dos Passos presents an unconventional protagonist by the construct of a collective consciousness through four apparatuses of narrative: the "Newsreels," the "Camera Eye," the "Biography," and fictional narrative. I claim that the author incorporates modernist techniques to develop a "subject" (elaborated "I") situated by a place and time to illustrate America as the protagonist in U.S.A., suggestive of a collective consciousness affected by the textual determinant of mass media of print. I will argue that each modal narrative is part of an encompassing relation of perspectives functioning as utterances of interpretive experiences in a discourse. These contiguous frameworks sequentially delineate cohesive continuities among a seemingly fragmented structure of relations in three novels. The stylistic narrative reflects the psychological composition of a collective consciousness, forming a structural portrait of America coping with the early twentieth century and modernity. Dos Passos' "chronicle" of a milieu negotiates three developments of America spanning approximately three decades. U.S.A. is an avant-garde textual representation of a national identity, a major work in the literary history of American literature and modernism.

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