U.S.A. trilogy

U.S.A. trilogy
By John Dos Passos

The U.S.A. trilogy by John Dos Passos is a monumental work of American modernist literature. Through the use of literary devices such as stream-of-consciousness, collage, and documentary techniques, Dos Passos creates a panoramic view of American life in the early 20th century. The trilogy consists of The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money, each exploring the lives of various characters from different walks of life, weaving together their stories to create a portrait of a rapidly changing nation. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in exploring the complexities of American society and the human experience.

Themes 📚

  1. The Dehumanization of Modern Life: The U.S.A. trilogy portrays the dehumanizing effects of industrialization and urbanization, which strip individuals of their autonomy and turn them into mere cogs in a machine.
  2. The Fragmentation of Identity: Dos Passos explores the theme of identity through the use of fragmented narratives and shifting perspectives. Characters in the novel struggle to reconcile their personal desires and aspirations with the demands of society.
  3. The Corruption of the American Dream: The trilogy highlights the corruption and decay of the American Dream, which promises individual freedom and success but often delivers disappointment and disillusionment.
  4. The Power of Money and Capitalism: Money and capitalism play a central role in the novel, with characters often sacrificing their personal values and relationships in pursuit of financial gain.
  5. The Impact of War and Violence: The U.S.A. trilogy reflects on the devastating impact of war and violence, both on individuals and society as a whole.
  6. The Struggle for Social Justice: The novel touches on issues of social justice and inequality, including labor rights, racism, and political corruption.
  7. The Search for Meaning and Connection: Amidst the chaos and fragmentation of modern life, characters in the trilogy search for meaning and connection with others, highlighting the importance of human relationships in a dehumanizing world.

Use of Literary Devices ✍🏽

  1. Stream-of-Consciousness: Dos Passos employs stream-of-consciousness techniques to depict characters’ inner thoughts and perceptions, creating a sense of immediacy and psychological depth.
  2. Collage: The author uses a collage of narrative fragments, newsreels, and biographical sketches to create a multifaceted and nuanced portrait of American life.
  3. Free Indirect Discourse: The novel employs free indirect discourse, a narrative technique that allows the author to blend the character’s thoughts and feelings with the third-person narration.
  4. Juxtaposition: Dos Passos uses juxtaposition to connect seemingly disparate elements of the narrative, creating new meanings and associations.
  5. Documentary Techniques: The author incorporates documentary techniques, such as newspaper headlines, song lyrics, and historical documents, to add authenticity and depth to the narrative.
  6. Symbolism: The U.S.A. trilogy makes use of symbolism to represent abstract concepts, such as the “machine” of modern life, the “city” as a site of alienation and anonymity, and the “country” as a symbol of hope and possibility.
  7. Irony: The novel employs irony to subvert the reader’s expectations and reveal the contradictions and hypocrisies of American society.
  8. Repetition: Dos Passos uses repetition to reinforce certain ideas or themes, creating a sense of unity and coherence in the narrative.
  9. Metaphor: The novel employs metaphor to draw connections between seemingly disparate elements, illuminating hidden meanings and associations.
  10. Allusion: The author makes use of allusion, referencing historical events, literary works, and cultural icons to add depth and richness to the narrative, and to provide commentary on American culture and society.

Examples of Literary Devices 📋

Stream of Consciousness

1. Joe Williams in “The 42nd Parallel”Joe’s thought process is depicted through stream of consciousness, allowing the reader to experience his inner thoughts and emotions directly.
2. Charley Anderson in “Nineteen Nineteen”Charley’s stream of consciousness offers insights into his experiences as a WWI pilot and his struggles upon returning home.
3. Margo Dowling in “The Big Money”Margo’s inner thoughts and feelings are portrayed using stream of consciousness, revealing her ambitions and insecurities in the world of Hollywood.


1. The labor strikes in “The 42nd Parallel”The labor strikes throughout the trilogy foreshadow the growing unrest and tension between the working class and the upper class in America.
2. The disillusionment of WWI veterans in “Nineteen Nineteen”The struggle of WWI veterans foreshadows the social and political upheavals that would occur during the 1920s and 1930s.
3. The Stock Market Crash in “The Big Money”The financial speculation and greed displayed by characters foreshadow the eventual Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression.


1. The U.S.A. trilogy itselfThe trilogy as a whole symbolizes the American experience during the early 20th century, encompassing a range of social, political, and economic issues.
2. WWI in “Nineteen Nineteen”WWI serves as a symbol for the disillusionment of the American Dream and the loss of innocence experienced by many during this time period.
3. The rise of Hollywood in “The Big Money”The rise of Hollywood symbolizes the shift towards consumer culture and superficiality that characterized the 1920s and 1930s.


1. The success of the wealthy charactersThe success of wealthy characters in the trilogy is often ironic, as it is based on exploitation and corruption rather than hard work and merit.
2. The disillusionment of the American DreamThe characters in the trilogy often strive for the American Dream, but their efforts are frequently met with disappointment and disillusionment, creating a sense of irony.
3. The title “The Big Money”The title of the final book is ironic, as it highlights the superficiality and corruption of the era while also showcasing the negative consequences of the pursuit of wealth.


1. The American DreamThe American Dream is a central motif throughout the trilogy, as characters strive for success and happiness, often facing disillusionment and disappointment.
2. Social and economic inequalitySocial and economic inequality is a recurring motif, highlighting the stark contrast between the wealthy and the working class.
3. War and its aftermathThe motif of war and its aftermath runs throughout the trilogy, as characters grapple with the psychological and societal consequences of warfare.


1. The rise and fall of various charactersThe rise and fall of characters in the trilogy serves as an allegory for the fluctuating nature of the American Dream and the instability of success during this time period.
2. The role of Hollywood in “The Big Money”Hollywood’s influence and the rise of consumer culture in the trilogy serve as an allegory for the growing superficiality and materialism in American society during the early 20th century.
3. The impact of war on societyThe impact of war on the characters and society in the trilogy serves as an allegory for the larger consequences of war, including the loss of innocence, disillusionment, and societal upheaval.

FAQs 💭

What are the literary devices used in the “U.S.A. trilogy” by John Dos Passos?

The “U.S.A. trilogy” uses various literary devices such as stream of consciousness, montage, newsreels, biographies, and fictional characters to create a complex portrayal of American life during the early 20th century.

What is the stream of consciousness technique in the “U.S.A. trilogy”?

The stream of consciousness technique is used to present the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters in an uninterrupted and unfiltered manner. The technique is used to convey the characters’ mental processes and emotions as they experience the events of the novel.

What is the montage technique in the “U.S.A. trilogy”?

The montage technique is a literary device that uses fragments of text, such as headlines, slogans, and advertisements, to create a collage of images and ideas. In the “U.S.A. trilogy,” the technique is used to create a sense of the fragmentation and dislocation of modern life in America.

What are newsreels in the “U.S.A. trilogy”?

Newsreels are short segments that provide brief summaries of important events in the novel. These segments are often used to comment on the events and to provide historical context for the story.

How are biographies used in the “U.S.A. trilogy”?

Biographies are short sketches of historical figures who lived during the time period in which the novel is set. These sketches are used to provide a sense of the cultural and political context of the novel, and to highlight the interconnections between the characters and the larger historical forces shaping their lives.

What is the role of fictional characters in the “U.S.A. trilogy”?

The fictional characters in the novel represent a cross-section of American society during the early 20th century. They are used to illustrate the various social, economic, and political forces that were at work during this period, and to explore the themes of alienation, isolation, and fragmentation that characterized modern life in America.