Socialism and the American Dream in Dos Passos’ ’42nd Parallell’

The 42nd Parallel has a great deal to say and, at least in his first part of the three part trilogy, Dos Passos shows a great deal of restraint in the handling of his own attitudes towards American politics and the state of the country in the time he writes. However, his courage only grows as he continues to write. This is why only at the end of the book does he feel entirely comfortable spelling out his message. On page 322 Dos Passos details an impassioned plea of a man asking the common workers to unite to fight the oppression of the rich man.
Although Dos Passos makes references to Socialism many times throughout the book, this is the first time that he makes direct reference to the state of America as a land of wanting. Sure, he shows that there are people that think another political system should be in place or at least change in the current one, but this divisiveness that he illustrates in this passage is indicative of the state of the entire nation. Mac definitely struggles to survive in the book as do some of the other characters, but there is always a distance between the rich and the poor characters (although both terms are certainly relative). After the speech about the working class uniting, the man is greeted with a “Hey, shut up youse…” (322) from the crowd. Even the working class cannot unite in a time of need. Nobody’s really ever happy in the book with what they have. Dos Passos seems to unite his characters in dissatisfaction, but in no other real way. This concept of wanting more is often sugarcoated as the “American dream” but Dos Passos exposes it for the vicious cycle he believes it to be.
This passage is particularly significant because of the way it reveals a great deal about the novel and the author itself. In the case of the novel, it made me as a reader fully realize what I was reading into these characters. Granted, I recognized a lot of this book for the depressing story that I still maintain it is, but there’s something about the completion of the novel that hits you like a ton of bricks. It’s not just that these characters struggle, but that even when they get what they want, it’s never enough. I say that this passage is telling, not only of themes of the novel, but Dos Passos also clearly included a great deal of himself in this work, so it would make sense that this was his own attitude. His cynicism may be difficult, but it’s much warranted.
I also feel that this passage is significant not only in the context of the novel or the author’s life, but how it also rings true in our modern society. I will, more than likely, forever maintain that the 42nd Parallel is largely unreadable to me, but Dos Passos has captured the American greed inherent in the American dream. Especially in a day and age where we spend hundreds of dollars on technology that will be rendered obsolete in a few month’s time, this is one thing that Dos Passos captures perfectly. Perhaps I was too quick to dismiss the novel in the beginning, but upon completion, the merits of it and its significance are much more apparent.

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