Of Portuguese American ancestry, John Roderigo Dos Passos (duhs-PAS-uhs) was born in Chicago on January 14, 1896, and educated at Harvard University, graduating in 1916. During World War I, he served in the ambulance corps, and from his experiences grew his first novel to attract attention, Three Soldiers, a contribution to a large body of fiction intended to strip war of any shreds of glamour or romance. Disillusioned like so many of the now-famous “lost generation,” Dos Passos next turned his attention to an exhaustive study of the American scene, trying to pack into Manhattan Transfer and the trilogies that followed it a picture, as nearly complete as possible, of society during a significant and crucial period of American history.
During his early career as a novelist, Dos Passos displayed distinctly leftist and radical sympathies that he carried into practice to the extent of being jailed for joining a picket line during the furor that attended the Sacco-Vanzetti case. This was the period of the proletarian novel, a type that he did much to form, not just by his sympathies with the underdog—those whom he considered to be exploited and abused by the American system. During the Depression years, when so much in America received sharp critical attention, the point of view maintained by Dos Passos had great popularity and influence.
In massive novels crowded with characters, like the U.S.A. and District...
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