Dos Passos in "We are Two Nations" made a statement. He intended to distinguish between the rich and powerful, and the poor and weak.  SEE BELOWMany observers would argue that Dos Passos’s...

Dos Passos in "We are Two Nations" made a statement. He intended to distinguish between the rich and powerful, and the poor and weak.  SEE BELOW

Many observers would argue that Dos Passos’s statement is an obvious oversimplification that America was then and is now many nations – racially, ethnically, and economically. Does that matter in this instance? Is the statement nonetheless rhetorically effective? Explain your position.

Asked on by laceyk

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I suppose his statement is rhetorically effective, but it was certainly not accurate even when he wrote it.  It is more a reflection of Marxist rhetoric than of the reality of the US.

Marxist thought holds that a person either owns the means of production (and exploits workers) or does not own them (and gets exploited).  Once class dominates the other until there is a revolution.  You can see that thinking in Dos Passos' argument that the rich have bought off the police and the politicians and the journalists and have all the power.  They use that power to oppress the people.

But even in the late 1920s there were plenty of people who were neither rich exploiters or lumpen proletarians who were always abused.  There was already a large and growing middle class that did not belong in either of these groups.

So, to me, saying the US was two nations sounds good and is rhetorically effective because it is simple.  But it is too simple and is/was just not true.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

One of the most compelling items that come out of Dos Passo's statement is how the collusion between government and business has helped to create a gap between individuals and the political order that is meant to protect their interests.  Dos Passo's language and implications strike at the very essence of the disjoint between America's history of foundation and the reality of its progress.  In one moment, Dos Passo captures this chasm between theory and reality with the soaring of his rhetoric:

America our nation has been beaten by strangers who have turned our language inside out who have taken the clean words our fathers spoke and made them slimy and foul

their hired men sit on the judge’s bench they sit back with their feet on the tables under the dome of the State House they are ignorant of our beliefs they have the dollars the guns the armed forces the powerplants.

The diversity of America is present throughout his writing.  However, I think the most rhetorically powerful element underlying Dos Passo's statement is how power is constructed in America.  When Dos Passo suggests, "We stand defeated," he is creating a rhetorical construction that political power in America should be constituted from the bottom up.  Yet, its crushing reality, the essence of Dos Passo's feeling of defeat, is that power has become colluded to be from the top down.

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