Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*United States

*United States. The United States of America of Dos Passos’s trilogy is an ironic analogue to the free country of popular history, illustrating the difference between what America should be and what America is. Popular histories tend to view the United States as a promised land open to all, a country built by and for immigrants, a country in which all people are equal. Dos Passos’s realism shows an America in which a working person who falls ill or is injured loses everything, and in which attempts to improve the lot of workers are seen as dangerous, “foreign” influences. It is also an America in which dissent is often met with immediate arrest; labor union organizers are imprisoned and deported, framed by the police, and even executed; men can be jailed for the crime of being unemployed; and a woman (Margaret Sanger) can be jailed for teaching other women about birth control.

The America of the trilogy is an isolationist, xenophobic nation, filling rapidly with a flood of European immigrants, ready to exploit the strength of their bodies in its mines and mills, but fearful of the radical ideas (Marxism, socialism, and anarchism) they bring with them from a rebellious continent. Everywhere the landscape is the same: Big companies owned by the rich use the poor as if they were parts of a machine. Workers who speak out, or who wear themselves out through overwork, are replaced. The reality of America as portrayed by Dos Passos contrasts sharply with the idea of America as envisioned by the nation’s Founders or as imagined by average citizens.


*Goldfield. Nevada mining town where labor organizer Fainy “Mac” McCreary works for a socialist newspaper, the Nevada Workman. There is no romantic Wild West here; rather, the town is the scene of one of the great “free speech” fights that erupted between mine workers and owners throughout the West in the early years of the...

(The entire section is 810 words.)