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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

11. Modernist Portraits

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
•  Timeline
•  Activities
- Overview Questions
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- Context
- Creative Response
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Activities: Author Activities

John Dos Passos - Author Questions

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  1. Comprehension: What are the different attitudes toward the labor movement espoused by different characters in The Big Money?

  2. Comprehension: How do the three sections--"Newsreel," "The Camera Eye," and "Mary French"--work in conjunction with one another? What links between and among them do you see? How does the "Mary French" section develop the ideas briefly enumerated in the headlines of the "Newsreel"? What do the parallel lives of the labor activists and the New York elite say about one another? Why do you think Dos Passos draws them together in this section?

  3. Context: Like Nella Larsen's Quicksand, this story examines an individual as well as a large social movement. What do these two narratives suggest about the way individuals must wrestle with their personal lives in the context of their involvement in larger social movements?

  4. Context: Other works in this and other units use the form of the pastiche--the patching together of disparate elements, often with the intention of parodying the sources--that Dos Passos employs in the "Newsreel" section. Why do you think Dos Passos and authors such as T. S. Eliot and Gertrude Stein use this technique? What is the effect of jumbling together seemingly unrelated materials, and what does this technique achieve that could not be achieved any other way?

  5. Exploration: Much modern art also patches together disparate elements to create a whole, as Dos Passos does in The Big Money. Take a look at some collage images. Picasso and Braque were especially fond of this technique and exhibited some of these works in the Armory Show of 1913. Do you see similarities between their work and Dos Passos's? What could their preference for such a technique be saying about modernity?

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