Biographical Markers in Dos Passos’ The Big Money
John Dos Passos’ The Big Money (1936) is hardly the only important American work to see greed as a cause of the stock market crash and then the Great Depression. It is packed with the problem of distinguishing greed from ambition, and it raises the question of the right social response to unattractive impulses. Prior to losing his idealistic fervor, or exchanging it for conservative passion, Dos Passos freely associated ambition with corruption, and acquisitiveness with antisocial self-interest. His deployment and biographical sketches of industrialists and other notable Americans suggest the difficulty of distinguishing avarice from ambition. Dos Passos’ treatment of ambition presupposes an economy where one person’s gain is at the expense of another; artistic accomplishment is, however, freed from this assumption. The novel speaks more to individual excesses than to their regulation, but it offers an opportunity to think about both.
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