Novel by John Dos Passos, published in 1925. It is marked by stylistic innovations, impressionistic descriptive effects, and a naturalistic attempt to depict the complex life of modern New York City. The careers of a dozen or more representative citizens are traced simultaneously, in a succession of brief dramatic episodes.
A country youth, Bud Korpenning, comes to the city to seek work, but after ten years of infrequent employment, and very close to starvation, commits suicide. Joe Harland, the “Wizard of Wall Street,” loses fortune and power through excessive drinking and is reduced to common labor and beggary. Gus McNeil, a wealthy contractor, and Joe O'Keefe, a radical union organizer, exhibit the opposite ends of the scale in the building trades. Ellen Thatcher Oglethorpe, with various changes of name, rises from the lower middle class to become a featured actress, at the cost of integrity and happiness. Her first husband, John Oglethorpe, is a homosexual, whom she divorces. She endures the attentions of the impresario Harry Goldweiser, whom she despises. The one man she really loves, Stan Emery, takes to drink, marries another actress, and dies in an apartment-house fire. Ellen marries devoted Jimmy Herf, but even though they have a child and she quits the stage they cannot be happy and are soon divorced. Jimmy, a cousin of Joe Harland, has an unhappy, struggling career in journalism, which he leaves to begin life anew outside the city. These and such other characters as Congo Jake, the bootlegger, James Merivale, the banker and society man, George Baldwin, the unscrupulous lawyer and politician, and Cassandra Wilkins, the absurd aesthete, serve to illustrate the author's pessimistic view of the decadent city and to bind together his portrait of its teeming activity.
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John Dos Passos (1896—1970) American novelist