American writer, whose bitter, highly impressionistic novels, attacking the hypocrisy and materialism of the U.S. between the two world wars, influenced several generations of American and European novelists.
Dos Passos was born January 14, 1896, in Chicago and educated at Harvard University. He utilized his wartime experience as an ambulance driver in France as background for his first novel One Man's Initiationó1917 (1920). Both critical and popular recognition came to Dos Passos with his next bitter antiwar novel, Three Soldiers (1921). Manhattan Transfer (1925), a panoramic view of life in New York City between 1890 and 1925, became immensely successful. Containing fragments of popular songs, news headlines, stream-of-consciousness monologues, and naturalistic fragments from the lives of a horde of unrelated characters, this powerful novel determined the style of the best of his later novels. His trilogy U.S.A. (collected in 1938), in the same style, expanded his panorama to encompass the entire nation. Comprising The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), and The Big Money (1936), the trilogy depicts the growth of American materialism from the 1890s to the Great Depression of the early 1930s.
After the publication of U.S.A., Dos Passos underwent a change of philosophy; previously radical in outlook, his philosophy became increasingly conservative. At the same time his writing became less impassioned and his style more direct and simple. He continued to produce a great deal of work, including several novels, books of personal observation, history, biography, and travel. The best-received was Midcentury (1961), a novel in which he returned to the kaleidoscopic technique of his earlier successes to depict a panoramic view of postwar America. At the time of his death, on September 28, 1970, in Baltimore, Maryland, Dos Passos had finished most of a novel, The Thirteenth Chronicle. Posthumously published were Easter Island (1971), a travel book, and The Fourteenth Chronicle (1973), his diaries and letters.
Source: Encarta 1994
Copyright Microsoft Corporation, 1994