American Modernism: Dos Passos and the American Propaganda Machine


JpassosbookU.S.A. Trilogy utilized the two-fold American propaganda machine of the Depression era (and some would argue all time) plan to keep its citizens in constant fear of the unknown as a means to control the financial flow of money towards the rich while controlling the workforce that produced the revenue stream in the first place. Media sources such as radio and newspapers worked night and day to inform Americans of what was going on in the workforce, availability of jobs, opportunities that may be coming and opportunities that may be shutting down.

One of the biggest fears of the workforce was too many workers and not enough jobs, as Capitalist created a supply and demand problem with the works and not just goods and services. One of the biggest threats workers feared, due to media outlets propaganda machines, was the immigrant workers, creating an argument of us versus them in a fight for money to stay alive. The landmark court case and the verdict of Sacco and Vanzetti are studied by every sociologist and labor activist seeking to understand how the American Justice System works or fails its citizens and John Dos Passos rightly includes it in his novel with the same objective. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian born immigrants who were also anarchists that were charged with murder and armed robbery. Propagandist had already laid down the groundwork for fear of anarchists and immigrants, this case brought the two together and ended in a death sentence on their lives in the American Justice System.

Dos Passos utilized the narrative perspective of the Camera’s Eye to see the first person perspective of the world for what it is in a stream of consciousness style narration. The Camera’s eye works in tandem with the Newsreel style narration of events. The narrator is not clear to the Camera’s eye but it is portrayed as an omniscient narrator, in a way that is reminiscent of 1984’s Big Brother by George Orwell. The Camera’s Eye is watching it all and sees what the workers are doing. Dos Passos uses this narrative technique to tell the stories of several characters, including Mary French. “John Dos Passos, a longtime friend of Vorse’s who owned a Provincetown house not far from hers, drew on her quality of willed self-creation when he invented Mary French, an ill-fated labor organizer in The Big Money, the third volume of his U.S.A. trilogy” (Glenn 6). French was a “seventy-seven-year-old who had been writing about labor for Harper’s (and many other outlets) since 1912” (Glenn 1). Dos Passos’s technique added realism to his novel while still sticking to the fiction genre. By weaving in real life famous people who played a part in the everyday newsreels of the day added to the authentic message behind Dos Passos novel without having to write it as non-fiction. A similar technique was used in modern times by Dan Brown to write The Da Vinci Code trilogy.

The Newsreel and Camera Eye are hard at work overriding what instinctually we know as humans to rewrite our programming with the cycle of fear and kindness. The news couldn’t be all bad or all good, otherwise, the brain will figure out it is being played a fool. “The theory of identification, which places greater emphasis on social relations at the expense of the instinctual drives,” and with people all watching the same news cycle they have something to socialize with each other at work the next day or at the grocery store, overriding their natural instincts to find fault with what they are being told (Rivkin 390). Dos Passos’s style uses Mary French and others by weaving them through the narration of news events to create a social conversation between seemingly unrelated events, which one could argue is similar to society. Two people in American society can come together and have an artificial conversation about events and celebrities that are occurring in order to build a connection (similar to social media), but this bubble is a false reality that goes against natural instincts. Dos Passos’s novel U.S.A. Trilogy is a case study in human relations at work while under the influence of American propaganda, run by a Capitalist system, utilizing narrators and famous names as bait to draw readers in.


Works Cited

Baym, Nina. Robert S. Levine. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. W.W.

Norton and Company. 2012.

Brittanica. John Dos Passos: American Novelist. The Editors of Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Retrieved from the web on August 9, 2017.

Dos Passos, John. Nina Baym. Robert S. Levin. The Norton Anthology of American

                      Literature. W.W. Norton and Company. Pages 690-694.

Glenn, David. “Bohemian Rhapsodies.” Columbia Journalism Review. July/August 2007.

Rivkin, Julie. Michael Ryan. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Second Edition.

Blackwell Publishing. 2004.



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