The 42nd Parallel: Reader Response 2

People have complained before that Dos Passos’ U.S.A. trilogy is hard to read, beyond just the length. I get it. Yes, the language is very plainspoken. You’re not gonna consult the dictionary except in cases of outdated slang. But one of the principal difficulties in tracking characters is that you have to follow both words and actions. The main characters, Mac, J.W., Eleanor, Janey, et al, often are hypocrites. They say one thing and do another. To get the full meaning, you’ve gotta track both. They change their minds and usually go against what they really think or feel. If it were conveyed on TV or film, you’d instantly get a feel for the hypocrisy from the look on a face or the motion of eyes. On the page, with the main characters, the satire can be buried.

In the biographies, the satire is still subtle but less so than in the traditional narrative spaces.