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Big Money

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Novel by Dos Passos, published in 1936. It is the last of the trilogy U.S.A. (collected 1938), following The 42nd Parallel (1930) and 1919 (1932). Interspersed in the narrative are brief biographies of Frederick Taylor, Ford, Veblen, Isadora Duncan, the Wright brothers, Valentino, Frank Lloyd Wright, Hearst, and Samuel Insull.

The war hero Charley Anderson returns to New York, is disillusioned in his aim to produce good airplanes regardless of profits, takes to drink and stock market gambling, marries an heiress, has an affair with Margo Dowling, is divorced, enters into a real estate fraud, and is killed in an auto accident.

Margo becomes a New York chorus girl after a sad and seamy youth and desertion by her husband. After her affair with Charley she uses the last of his money to get work in Hollywood movies but later sinks into obscurity. Mary French, onetime Vassar student and an idealistic labor reporter, is discouraged by the arrest of her lover, Ben Compton, a Communist, and by the outcome of the Sacco-Vanzetti case but continues to work for labor causes.

Richard Ellsworth Savage is alone able to cope with the era, accepting its standards and opportunistically serving the “public relations” firm of J. W. Moorehouse, whose successor he promises to become.

The final character is a “vag,” hitchhiking across the continent, who thinks of the comfort of the passengers in a plane overhead, and of his youthful beliefs: “went to school, books said opportunity, ads promised speed, own your own home, shine bigger than your neighbor.…”

Subjects: Literature

Reference entries

John Dos Passos (1896—1970) American novelist