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The Losing Streak: Failure in the Novels of John Dos Passos

Colley, Iain (1975) The Losing Streak: Failure in the Novels of John Dos Passos. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94281) (KAR id:94281)

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The aim of this thesis will he to conduct a critical analysis of the novels of John Dos Bassos. Dos Passos will he treated essentially as a novelist, with a novelist's means and purposes, and not as a propagandist of ideas or a political case-study. As far as politics are concerned, they will be used as referents only where they emerge as relevant dramatic or aesthetic elements in the fiction. In particular, I shall concentrate on Dos Passos' depiction of failure and disappointment, and the manner in which these qualities are the recurrent concerns shaping the form of his writing. The argument will not be that Dos Passos was personally an unhappy or embittered man, but that the signal tenor of his outlook as it is expressed in the novels is predominantly pessimistic. An attempt to investigate and define this pessimism - in terms of its nature and parameters, the extent to which it is successfully realised in his art, the character typology to which it gives rise, and its relation to various historical normative currents in the United States - is the central intention. I have chosen throughout to use the expression "engrammatic" to describe what seems to me to be the most distinctive character of his attitude and style. This word, as I employ it, is implicitly opposed to "traumatic", and I mean it to signify the view that life, though painful, frustrating and futile,is not tragic; that the individual's spirit is worn down by a series of squalid minor reverses. The strongly "behaviouristic" method of character portrayal I find to be the aesthetic equivalent of this belief, and concomitant with it is a scepticism about meaning, pattern and cause. I have attempted to evaluate each novel as I deal with it, and to indicate what seems to me the fundamental line of development. I have no quarrel with the generally accepted judgement that USA is the peak achievement, though I feel that its actual significance (and that of other works) has been obscured by the grinding of extra-literary axes and probably by a certain amount of critical embarrassment about Dos Passos' career. Briefly, my argument is that the pre-Manhattan Transfer novels are traumatic in their efforts to suggest tragic possibilities in life and their inclusion of redemptive heroes; that Manhattan Transfer and USA, are engrammatic novels par excellence, and have acquired a voice in which to render the engrammatic vision; and that as Dos Passos attempts to renounce scepticism in the later, more overtly tendentious books, there is a profound failure of artistic conviction. The broad context of this study is American literature; for specific comparisons within that field, I have chosen to treat Dos Passos as a member of the Lost Generation. Knowing his contemporaries Hemingway and Fitzgerald, always alert to their achievements, he yet pursued his own course. Between the tragedy of heroic endeavour and the tragedy of nympho- leptic romance, he set himself to tackle the chronically untragic; the near- at—hand; the commonplace and sordid, I hope to indicate the precise value and truth of this accomplishment.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.94281
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Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 28 Oct 2022 13:05 UTC
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2022 13:05 UTC
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