The narrative that frames the first section of Manhattan Transfer both concretizes and confuses the alienation theme, the motif central to the novel, and Dos Passos's indictment of industrial America. The reader first encounters the story of Bud Korpenning's entering the city with high expectations. So, expecting the organization of a traditional plot, the reader anticipates that Bud's story will be the center of narrative interest, but it actually constitutes only a small fraction of the first section. Quickly Dos Passos directs us to other sketches. In a larger sense, however, Bud's story provides a nucleus of meaning for the rest of the novel. It is simultaneously a frame device, a thematic microcosm, and a representative example of confusion between satiric and individual character development in the novel as whole.
Enacting what is nearly a cultural archetype. Bud wants to relocate from rural New York to the city, in his repeated phrase to "get to the center of things." Like the heroes of novels by writers as diverse as Theodore Dreiser, William Dean Howells, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bud attempts a journey from innocence and rural America to experience and the metropolis. This quest, a prototype for Charley Anderson's story in U.S.A. as well, is figuratively a search for some sense of connection to a larger cultural enterprise. While he makes his way toward the center of the city, but not its figurative centers of power and influence....
(The entire section is 1838 words.)
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