John Dos Passos' Manhattan Transfer


HISTORICAL BACKGROUND: This book began in the 1890's. Benjamin Harrison of
the Republicans was in power. The novel began by showing the problems of
immigration both from the view point of the immigrant and of the already
settled American. We are aware right from the first page that the life of
an immigrant was extremely difficult. Jobs were extremely scarce and even
when they were available the pay was low. However the immigrants had to
worry about more than just jobs; they had to worry about the safely of the
lives of their families. Because there was a huge number of unemployed in
the cities groups such as the Klu Klux Klan (K.K.K) flourished. The
unemployed blamed the immigrants for their problems, they thought that it
was they who were taking away their jobs. To relieve such anger people in
groups like the K.K.K went out and attacked innocent immigrants often
killing them. If one were black things were even worse. There were many
laws that separated them from white men and made their lives very
difficult. They were constantly beaten by white men and found getting jobs
very hard. As well people became firebugs and often burned down buildings
in which the immigrants lived. The majority of Americans resented the
immigrants because they represented lost jobs. the only people who did like
the influx of immigrants were the rich because they represented a large
pool of labour that cost next to nothing.

America was very much separated from the rest of the world. The Monroe
Doctrine of 1823 was still a big part of life in the United States Of
America and politicians made sure that they did n not get involved in
European affairs. They remained unchanged until the first World War when
America joined in on the side of the Allies. This novel showed that most
Americans were glad that they had joined. It created jobs for the poor and
increased the wealth of many of the already very rich as well. I learned
greatly how the politics of the time worked. Passos showed how the sinking
of a ship carrying Americans triggered the The United States to join.
Before this book I had though it ridiculous that a country would go to war
over a few deaths, but the author showed how the American goverment used
propoganda to make the Americans want to join in the war and fight.
Manhattan Transfer tells the tale of how a poor tailor became very rich
when the were broke out. He managed to secure a contract with the
government for body bags and overnight he was rich. With the war looking
promising for America people started to buy again. It was in this period
also that Americans began to rebuild their economy. As well they started
going out to clubs quite often. The novel spends a great deal of time on
how people began to spend their money in pubs again and how their hearts
began to be overjoyed as time went on and the German's began to lose. This
era is referred to by many historians as the Jazz Era.

Many of the poorer characters in Manhattan Transfer made references to
people such as J.P. Morgan and other Robber Barons telling great tales of
their fortunes and how they too would one day do the same. This is
interesting because it shows that they are not just some unknown historical
characters in our history book but instead real people that everyone knew.
This book continues on until the year 1925, thus through 5 different
presidents such as Grover Cleveland (Republican), William McKinley
(Republican), Teddy Roosevelt (Republican), Woodrow Wilson (Democrat) and
Waren Hardwig (Republican). Note how four of the five presidents are
Republicans. Manhattan Transfer brings this up very well by showing that
the common people supported this party because it stood for the traditional
ways. This was very popular with second and third generation immigrants
because they did not want change but for the newly landed immigrants this
was not what they wanted. They had come to America to find streets covered
in gold but when they got there they found nothing but poverty.

Manhattan Transfer showed clearly how the United States benefitted from the
war with the Germans. Their economy was greatly stimulated and they became
the world's largest creditor.

SYNOPSIS: This book does not have a plot as such. It is more the story of
life in New York City from 4 different points of view. There are four main
groups of characters in this book, 2