The America of John Dos Passos

"The America of John Dos Passos." Review of U.S.A., by John Dos Passos (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1937). Partisan Review 4 (April 1938): 26-32.


U.S.A. is far more impressive than even its three impressive parts—The 42nd Parallel, 1919, The Big Money—might have led one to expect. It stands as the important American novel of the decade, on the whole more satisfying than anything else we have. It lacks any touch of eccentricity; it is startlingly normal; at the risk of seeming paradoxical one might say that it is exciting because of its quality of cliché: here are comprised the judgments about modern American life that many of us have been living for years.

Yet too much must not be claimed for this book. Today we are inclined to make literature too important, to estimate the writer’s function at an impossibly high rate, to believe that he can encompass and resolve all the contradictions, and to demand that he should. We forget that, by reason of his human nature, he is likely to win the intense perception of a single truth at the cost of a relative blindness to other truths…

Google Books - essay as published in The Moral Obligation to be Intelligent
Boston University - Partisan Review archive - first published version