Crisis in Youth Evolution in Novel “Camera Eye”
The novel tells the story of people that lived and worked mainly on the territory of France in the wartime. Five key characters of the novel are young individuals full of life and ambitions; they are open to everything new and unconventional, including revolutionary ideas, because they want to change the world. However, the development of the plot is driven not only by the destiny of key characters but also by the course of the history presented in the “Newsreels,” the biographies of the historical figures, and the experimental insertions called the “Camera Eye.” These newsreels reconstruct the historical background of the era while bibliographies describe the background of people who used to decide the fortunes of nations. The “Camera Eye” is the semi-autobiographical inclusions of John Passos’s memories. All together, they point out that, according to the author, the American civilization is going through the crisis. Therefore, the argument that the writer is going to support throughout the paper is that the younger generation of the American society undergoes the crisis, because they believe that they can possess whatever they desire. Moreover, they assume that if they want something badly and work hard for it, it will be their God-given award. However, in fact, the life in America does not work in that way. It is because the losses and gains, as well as ordeals and rewards, are not fairly distributed among all people. In other words, John Passos does not believe in the existence of the American dream scenario.
The narration begins with the Newsreel XX that describes the events happening in the world and particularly in Europe, that “reeking with murder and the lust of rapine, aflame with the fires of revolution.” Only after that passage, the narrator introduces to the audience the first key character of the novel, sailor Joe Williams, who at that moment is in Buenos Aires, on his way to England. Joe leads a carefree life and drinks a lot of alcohol. He is neither dissolute nor lusty but often sleeps with prostitutes or any available women. However, being completely broken, he refuses to satisfy the lust of a rich man who offered him a lot of money. He marries sly and egoistic Dell, whom he trusts absolutely, because the man himself is an ingenuous and faithful person. Joe always carries with him the photo of his sister and treats Dell as a queen. For Dell’s sake and in order to make his sister proud, he works a lot and takes the classes; therefore, he was at first the third and, after that, the second mate. However, both his beloved women do not show the same level of loyalty, care, and decency towards him. Dell cheats on Joe while his sister is ashamed of him being not enough sophisticated and rich. The man eventually brakes up with his wife and sails a lot. In one of the harbors, he starts dating a casual girl. One night, he goes to meet her and finds her with another man. As a result, Joe puts up the fight and is killed.
The irony is that Joe Williams is killed at the very moment when his life takes a right track: he has a well-paid job; he maintains a close contact with his beloved sister. It is a moment when he is ready not only to get married but also to support his family, because his cherished dream has always been to have a happy family. Such an absurd death of a young man because of some almost accidental girl is the manifestation of John Passos’ pessimistic understanding of life. According to his opinion, the life is not fair.
Camera Eye 28
The inclusions of the “Camera Eye” cover a lot of personal information, including John Passos’ early memories of his parents, time spent at numerous schools, first sexual experience, and death of both parents, as well as his involvement in the World War I.
However, particularly, “Camera Eye 28,” with which John Passos opens this book, is the most emotional and gloomy one. It is saturated with a sense of pain and sorrow caused by the death of his parents, close friend, and many young people who were prematurely killed in the war. Almost every phrase of the “Camera Eye 28” reflects his grief. John Passos twice repeats, “I am so tired from violets, take them all away.” The choice of flower is not accidental. It is associated with the Greek myth of the abduction of Proserpina by Pluto, the god of the underworld. The ancient Greeks considered the violet a flower of sorrow and death; with it, they decorated the deathbeds and the graves of the young people who died prematurely. The author finishes the “Camera Eye” with the following words, “The foggy night flamed with the proclamations of the League of the Rights of Man. The almond smell of high explosives sending singing ?clats through the sweetish puking grandiloquence of the rotting dead.” Here, by positioning the League of the Right of the Man next to the explosions and rotting dead, John Passos blames the first for the poorly made job. The “Camera Eye 28” is the author’s lamentation over not only his parents and friend but also thousands of young lives taken by the war.
Anne Elizabeth and Richard (Dick)
Before introducing his next core character, Richard Ellsworth Savage, the author gives “Newsreel XXI”, in which the audience read the following newspaper headlines: “War Decreases Marriages and Births,” “8 Year Old Boy Shot by Lad with Rifle,” “British Airman Fights Sixty Foes,” and “Serbians Advance 10 Miles, Take 10 Towns.” It gives a sense of a dangerous world, in which people used to live then. The author asserts that the youth of his heroes is wasted on war and death. However, not on everybody, the war had a destructive impact. Richard Savage follow the motto that the life is short while the youth is not everlasting, and all opportunities have to be found out and utilized. He often uses people in his interests beginning from Skinny Murray, his friend from childhood. Dick is not a villain. In fact, in general, his character, conduct, and actions are rather admirable than reproachful. He is a confident, single-minded, and decorous person with the talent of a writer and speaker. The story with Anne Elizabeth is his only low point. He knows that he does not love her, but she is a trophy for him. Therefore, the man exploits her strong feelings towards him exclusively for satisfying his ego and lust. Her feelings do not concern him at all. As soon as Dick learns that Anne Elizabeth is pregnant, she becomes a liability for him. Even when he gets to know about her death, he does not feel any remorse or guilt; a little later, the man says that he is simply bored. The novel finishes with Dick, who has not come any closer to realization of his dream of becoming a writer than at the beginning of the book. Moreover, he is much emptier inside than he has ever been before.
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Anne Elizabeth is a daughter of a very wealthy Texas farmer. The father and brothers adore her as she is the sun and the moon for them. She is a beautiful and bright young woman with strong feeling of justice. Once she intervened in beating a man by the police officer. After that incident, all the newspapers of New York were dazzling with following the headline, “Texas Belle Assaults Cop.” When the father asked the young woman about the event, she was not sorry at all for doing that, she said that it was a righteous thing to do, and she would do it again if needed. After Anne Elizabeth brother has an airplane crash that results in his death, she decides to be useful and help her country in the war. In Rome, she meets Dick and passionately fell in love with him. Before Richard, every man in her life has had only decent intentions, so she do not suspect any trickery on Dick’s account. She is committed to saving herself for the right man; therefore, Dick’s betrayal destroys her confidence and trust in all people. By all accounts, her decision to commit suicide is extremely stupid and selfish. She just cannot bear the idea of being rejected by her father and brothers. They adored the woman and considered her the best person in the world, so the thought that they will see in her something less is not acceptable for her. By killing Anne Elizabeth, John Passos implies that the passions in youth are the strongest and the most egoistic ones as the control over emotions is much weaker. He suggests that the young people are more easily excited and more self-centered, violent, inconsequent and foolhardy than individuals of more mature age.
Before introducing Eveline to his readers, John Passos added the portion of the usual alarming headlines and extracts from the articles. In one of the articles, he states, “I love my country indeed I do. But this war is making me blue.” His heroine, Eveline Hutchins, has been depressed since her childhood as she has an artistic nature and restless spirit. In contrast to Anne Elisabeth, she had numerous sex intercourses simply to avoid boredom. She works for the Red Cross organization, but it is not because she is a patriot. This activity provides her with the way of life that is the most satisfactory to her. She does not become a famous artist as she has thought she would one day; nevertheless, she gets happily married and is expecting a baby. John Passos granted her with such kind of happiness, because he is sure that it will not last long. Eveline’s restless spirit cannot be satisfied with this simple happiness. Knowing Eveline’s story, it is her usual way of trying to fill the emptiness inside her.
Throughout the entire novel, John Passos refrains from direct demonstration of his position on the war situation. However, his ideas can be tracked through statements of his characters and biographies of the historical activists, which he includes in his novel. The author cites the utterance of Paxton Hibben, the American diplomat, journalist, and humanitarian, “The war in Europe was bloody and dirty and dull, but the war in New York revealed such slimy depths of vileness and hypocrisy that no man who saw it can ever feel the same again.” In his novel, John Passos has repeated for several times that the young people of that time were forced to live not only in the war atmosphere but also in the atmosphere of profiting on the suffering and death. He blames both the war and the American politicians for the crisis, in which the American society found itself.
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Ben Compton is the only key character in the novel, which is revolutionary tuned. He spends all his life for and ends it with fighting for the rights of the working class and against any injustice. Therefore, the man is the only victim of his time. If he were born in any other time, he would have much better chances on successful life. John Passos shows how Ben is taken by the revolutionary movement and suggests that he does not have another choice in his life but continue fighting.
There are events in life that no one wants to happen, but must accept, as well as news that no one wants to hear, but must learn. No one wants to let the dearest people go but, sometimes, the circumstances force people to do so. The story by John Dos Passos occurred in times of the World War I when events were frequently unwanted, news was frequently unpleasant, and dearest people must have been let go too often. In the course of the reading, the feeling that the author is looking for something but could not find it is very distinct. His search is particularly noticeable in developing his key characters. They all are talented and promising young people, but they do not rich their happy ending in his book. No one achieves his/her goals. However, John Passos paid a great deal of attention to his characters’ dreams and expectations. Therefore, his intention was to reveal not only the crisis of economic and social American development but also the crisis of the American youth. He showed that the existence of the well-advertised American dream is nothing more than a myth. John Passos has stated that the life is always complicated, arbitrary, and unfair, especially in the wartime. No one is entitled anything. The only thing that matters is choices that an individual makes, because with those choices he/she will have to live for the rest of his/her life.
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