Novels of the Great War: "Three Soldiers" by John Dos Passos

Three Soldiers is one of two early novels that John Dos Passos (Chicago 1896 - Baltimore, 1970) wrote about his experience in the First World War. Precisely it is the second one, since the first is One Man's Initiation (1917). Three Soldiers was published in 1921 in New York by Doran (below is the cover of the first edition). The book tells the stories of three American soldiers while they train and prepare to travel to one of the main fronts of the "European" War, namely the French one. The three are Fuselli, an Italian American coming from San Francisco, Chrisfield, a farmer from Indiana and the talented Andrews, who studied at Harvard and that can be considered under many aspects as the author's alter ego. The three represent a significant "sampling" of the white America back at the time the country was facing the global conflict originated in the heart of Europe. In Three Soldiers different imaginaries clash in the sprockets of military life, in the bureaucracy, in the boredom and finally in the lies and in the carnage of war. The narrative device of Dos Passos aims to show the dehumanizing effects of war on the fear, on the instinct of rebellion and on the individuality of each of the protagonists, who move in a kind of triangulation and therefore give life to a "triple novel" in one.

Rather than a novel of the Great War, Thee Soldiers can be approached as a novel born within this new warfare, one of the first works of fiction that tries to catch the meeting and clash between America and Europe at a time when an European war turns into a global war. The three protagonists show very distinct psychological characterizations and to give life to one of the first effective portraits of the loneliness of the contemporary man, in that particular moment when two worlds - America and Europe – meet because of the war that starts a new era. It’s particularly interesting, in addition to the above mentioned psychological and linguistic characterizations of the protagonists, to fix what we could call the geography of the novel, as well as the first appearance of a new yet already well-shaped cinematic imagery, almost unique feature of the novel. [You can find the page that Project Gutemberg dedicated to Three Soldiers at this link, while the public domain audiobook is available here.]