Biography of John Dos Passos (1896-1970)

Poet, Narrator and essayist American, born in Chicago on January 14, 1896 and died in Baltimore in 1970. Author of a vast and complex narrative production which is one of the best descriptive frescoes in American today of the 20th century, by the brilliance of his style and the originality of the narrative procedures which exhibited in his main works is regarded as one of the great innovators of American letters (and, largely, of universal literature) contemporary.

Born in a family of Portuguese immigrants, he received from child careful academic training that allowed him to pursue advanced studies at Harvard University, from which he graduated in 1916. With the intention of expanding knowledge, he then undertook several journeys through the European continent, and one of them ended up in Spain, where he studied architecture.

The outbreak of the first world war aroused his conscience solidarity and led him to enlist as a volunteer in the French army sanitary Corps, where he served in an ambulance. Shortly afterwards he went to perform identical functions in the U.S. Army, where he began to accumulate a series of experiences that soon became the basic material of their first stories. Thus, at the end of the second decade of the century, coinciding with the end of the world war, the young John Dos Passos gave to the printer one debut, titled One Man completo Initiation (initiation of a man, 1919), was an autobiographical testimony of their bitter war experiences. But its real dimension humanitarian and antimilitarist flourished really in a later fictional delivery, Three soldiers (three soldiers, 1921), work which analyzed the different behaviors of three typical Americans over the course of the armed struggle.

The emergence of these works began to arouse the interest of critics and readers to the figure of a young narrator who seemed to be convinced that the creators had to assume at all times a well-defined political commitment, in an era in which Europe and America also multiple aesthetic currents who rejected this participation of the artist in the public life of his time. In line with these proposals for commitment and civil responsibility, John Dos Passos began to experiment with new forms of expression that would allow it to show, with the greatest possible efficiency, the true reflection of the social, political and cultural problems of his countrymen.

Thus arose his first great novel, Manhattan Transfer (1925), a work that convulsed not only the foundations of the traditional American narrative, but those of all contemporary literature (at the end of a quarter of a century since its publication, Spanish literary critics pointed out unanimously the clear influence of this work on the novel La Colmena, Camilo José Cela). Manhattan transfer, Dos Passos availed of the allegorical image of the city as anthill to reflect the variegated multiplicity of numerous simultaneous existences that developed within the big city, giving the exclusivity of the prominence to the city itself and their dizzying spiral of chaos, corruption and degradation of human life. In his flight from the traditional naturalistic procedures voluntary, the narrator of Chicago took advantage of some cinematographic techniques that, by means of a fragmentary succession of images in a kaleidoscope, showed an expressionist snapshot of this city which, at the time, was going to be the most modern and futuristic ORB. Reflection of urban chaos, the expressive forms that adopts this dazzling narrative set up a synchronous juxtaposition of situations, facts, emotions, events and ideas without an owner, against usual paint naturalistic cities that AC description detailed and ordered various hostile forces faced in permanent tension.

Faced with the success achieved by this novel, John Dos Passos decided to offer an extensive and detailed overview of American life during the first third of the 20th century, with special emphasis on the degraded and lives ruined of the "disinherited", i.e. of those who constitute the large number of casualties caused by injustice and exploitation of the capitalist system. The painful existence of these beings, lost and dehumanized in a hostile environment which could not escape, constitutes one of the central themes of the narrative of the author of Chicago: the great failure of the "American dream", degenerated into a wild capitalism that, founded on the cornerstones of economic abuse and exploitation of man by man, relentlessly destroys all those who fail to adapt to its voracious productive gear.

All were captured in the splendid trilogy called U.S.A., consisting of the novels The 42nd. Parallel (parallel 42, 1930), 1919 (1932) and The big money (big money, 1936), works which, together with Manhattan Transfer, constitute the most remarkable part of the literary production of John Dos Passos. In parallel 42 - perhaps his most famous, and certainly work which most influenced American and European mid 20th century - narrative, Chicago writer returns to give the collective role to a series of fictional characters (the revolutionary Mac; sailor Williams; Dick Savage intellectual; Moorehouse opportunist; Eleanor Aesthete; the voracious Evelyn; Margot mercenary; etc.) thatin the midst of the real news published by the current press and the songs of the moment, configured with your existence a thorough picture of the atmosphere of the time. Among them, cobra an emphasis within the narration - not arrogate to itself, therefore a unique role - the aforementioned Moorehouse, vivid portrait of the average American who, obsessed by the rise on the social ladder, uses any means (friendly and captivating manners acumen to push into the psychology of those around him; his marriage with the daughter of a millionaire, etc.) to achievefrom its humble initial state, an advantageous economic position and renown among his fellow citizens.

But, beyond the vicissitudes of individual of each of these characters, in parallel 42 (and the rest of the narrations of the U.S.A. trilogy) dazzle the reader innovative and aggressive narrative procedures that uses Dos Passos to, on the one hand, to obtain this kaleidoscopic image that pursues in all his works, and, on the other hand, escape pamphletary tone that could have dragged his firm will of political and social criticism. Among these resources, it stands out with its own light the literal quotation of the owners and the news published in the most disparate Rotary of the era (the newsreel or "cine-periodico"), used with the intention of provoking a violent reaction from the reader, which inevitably provides a comparison between the actuality of real-life and fictional experiences of the characters; but, in addition, John Dos Passos resorts to the constant introduction, within the storyline of the landmarks most prominent and pulsating in the lives of celebrities of the moment, procedure which again serves to highlight the strong contrast ironic with the journey of their literary figures. Another technique of identical originality and effectively used by the narrator of Chicago is in the continuous incorporation of poems, songs of fashion, current reports and, ultimately, many ingredients can contribute to recreate, as thick expressionist strokes, the atmosphere of the time; However, perhaps his greatest contribution to the universal contemporary novel, within the field of the technical procedures used for narration, either the use of the so-called camera eye ('eye of the camera'), resource that allows you to interrupt the narrative itself said to enter comments about the "flow of consciousness" of the characters, with a distant and impersonal voice that - despite this - on many occasions is identified with the voice of the author.

Other attempts of John Dos Passos to reflect the devastating effects of capitalist greed in American society from the first half of the 20th century did not reach the aesthetic achievements of Manhattan Transfer and the U.S.A. trilogy So happened with his sporadic forays into the dramatic genre (which, however, triumphed in 1934 with the comedy Three Plays), or his previous book of poems, entitled A Pushcart at the Curb (1922), which did not reach nowhere near the impact of his writings in prose. Also, published several stories embedded in the genre of travel books, including those titled Orient Express (1927), In All Countries (1934), Journeys Between Wars (1938) and State of the Nation (1944). This first phase of his literary production is also the Camera Eye novel, in which he painted one colorful picture of American life prior to the second world war.

In a second stage of his narrative work, Chicago writer showed signs that his courageous critical and combative spirit was evolving toward less radical ideological stances that led, first, to the nihilistic disappointment, which finally went to defend openly conservative positions. The beginning of these changes be warned clearly in Adventures of a Young-Man (adventures of a young man, 1939), where Dos Passos began to makes clear his disappointment by the dogmatism of the political parties of the left, disappointment that gained even greater consistency in the portrait of an American demagogue offered in his next novel, Number One (number one, 1943). Along the same lines, it should be also placed their stories entitled Tour of Duty (1946) and The Grand Design (the great destiny, 1949).

Other works are titled The Prospect Before Us (1950), district of Columbia (1952), Most Likely to succeed (1954), The Theme Is Freedom (1956), The Men Who Made the Nation (the men who made the nation, 1957), Midcentury (mid-century, 1961), Mr. Wilson s War (1962), Introduction to Brazil (1963) and Occasions and Protests (1964).

At the end of the 1960s, now firmly committed to the defense of the far-right values, John Dos Passos departed radically from that American reality that had disillusioned him to return the eyes to the past and tell the story of three centuries in the country of their ancestors. As a result of this self-absorbed isolation - not oblivious to the own internal meditation - was the work entitled The Portugal Story (the history of Portugal, 1969), a book, published a year before the disappearance of the author, showed amazing ideological evolution that had undergone John Dos Passos from the game young, publish some titles so revealing of his initial confidence in human values as Rocinante to the Road Again (1922).