Friday, February 26, 2016

1919 by John Dos Passos

    • 1919 by John Dos Passos
    • Published 1932
    • Second in the U.S.A. Trilogy
    • This volume follows 5 different characters --- Joe, Richard, Eveline, Daughter and Ben. Three of the five main characters from the first book make appearances in smaller roles as their orbits collide with the new characters.
    • The narrative covers the period from 1914 through 1919, the period of World War I and its immediate aftermath.

    • As in the first book there are four different narrative styles:
      • The main narrative featuring the stories of the five new characters.
      • The newsreels which offer a stream-of-consciousness collection of newspaper headlines and articles, popular songs, and other things.
      • The Camera Eye which is a stream-of-consciousness autobiography of Dos Passos during these years.
        • These add nothing to the reading experience and are entirely skimmable or skippable.
      • Short biographies of people from the era:
        • John Reed, Randolph Bourne, Theodore Roosevelt, Paxton Hibben, Woodrow Wilson, J.P. Morgan, Joe Hill, Wesley Everest and The Unknown Soldier.
          • I have heard of five of them: Reed (Warren Beatty played him in "Reds"), Roosevelt, Wilson, Morgan and the Unknown Soldier.
          • Hill and Everest were members of the IWW (International Workers of the World or "Wobblies") while Bourne and Hibben were progressives of the era.
    • I was disappointed that the main characters from the first book appear so little in this second book if they even appear at all.
    • I will read the final book down the line. Since the next book concentrates on new characters there is no reason to rush to it. It covers the 1920s so it should be interesting.
    • Overall I am liking these books but not loving them. But they cover a time of U.S. history I am not as familiar with and that makes it a real learning experience.
    • Several characters change circumstances easily. For example, a guy has a girlfriend (or gets married) and then decides he doesn't want to be with her anymore so he just leaves. He can get a job elsewhere and the girlfriend/wife will never be able to find him.
      • This is something that is much more difficult to manage in our time. In the 1910s how did people identify themselves?! Driver's licenses were only just beginning to exist; Social Security was still 20 years in the future. It was such a different world just 100 years ago.
    • The characters in these books sleep around with abandon, get venereal diseases, and drink to excess. Many of the men get their pay and drink it all up or use it on prostitutes. Then they end up in flophouses or on the street until the next payday. 
      • It seems a precarious life. During the war years the prevailing thought was apparently "spend it all today because you may not be alive tomorrow". But then some people still live like this even now so I suppose it is a facet of human nature.

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