Adventures of a Young Man: A Novel

Adventures of a Young Man: A Novel

by John Dos Passos


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504015516
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date: 09/08/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 998,369
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

John Roderigo Dos Passos (1896–1970) was a writer, painter, and political activist. He wrote over forty books, including plays, poetry, novels, biographies, histories, and memoirs. He crafted over four hundred drawings, watercolors, and other artworks.
Dos Passos considered himself foremost a writer of contemporary chronicles. He preferred the moniker of “chronicler” because he was happiest working at the edge of fiction and nonfiction.
Both genres benefited from his mastery of observation—his “camera eye”—and his sense of historical context. Dos Passos sought to ground fiction in historic detail and working-class, realistic dialogue. He invented a multimedia format of songs, newsreels, biographies, third-person fictional narrative, and first-person semi-autobiographical narrative snapshots to convey the frenzy of America’s industrialism and urbanism in the twentieth century. His most memorable fiction— Three Soldiers (1921), Manhattan Transfer (1925), and the U.S.A. trilogy (1938)—possesses the authority of history and the allure of myth. Likewise, he sought to vitalize nonfiction history and reportage with the colors, sounds, and smells documented on his journeys across the globe.

Read an Excerpt

Adventures of a Young Man

A Novel

By John Dos Passos


Copyright © 1939 John Dos Passos
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-1549-3




The bird cocked his head as he hopped out into the sun from between the flowers behind the hoops round the flowerbed. He kept his feet side by side when he hopped. When he cocked his head his eye was looking right in the little boy's eye. He pecked hard into the damp dirt between his feet. When he hopped again a pink worm was wiggling in his beak. The little boy yelled to Old Soul to look he'd taught a worm. Old Soul raised his cane into the sky and sighted along it at the bird as he flew and made a popping noise with his lips. "Bagged him, Glenn," he said, and the middle of his eyes were bright and black like the bird's eyes, in his white face that ended in drooping white whiskers that hid his chin and most of his necktie. "Now he's dead," yelled the little boy.

Old Soul said the bird was dead as a door nail and that made the little boy laugh. Then he said that when he'd been a little boy, bigger than Glenn but still a little boy, he had been reputed a good shot with a rifle, he could shoot a railbird's head off at a hundred paces and not ruffle the feathers, but he'd seen too much shooting along the Potomac and in the Wilderness and besieged in Petersburg and now he wouldn't shoot a living thing. "Shoot him," said the little boy, pointing at the gentleman on the horse who was taking off his hat while his horse stood on his hind legs. Old Soul said he wouldn't shoot him, he was General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, whatever might have been said against him he had been a great heart and a Christian Gentleman.

The lady in the big white hat with flowers on it coming towards them down the path was Mother. The little boy ran to meet her yelling, "Oh, Muddy, Old Thoul thot a bird." Mother's skirts swished as she stooped and hugged him and he could smell the sachetpowder smell of her clothes. She said Old Soul wouldn't hurt a fly.

He pulled her by the hand to where Old Soul was slowly getting up off the bench, taking off his black hat with a sweep like the Christian Gentleman on the horse. From under his hat skimpy white silk hairs shone in the sun round a pink bald head. Mother kissed Old Soul at the corner of his whiskers and asked Papa darling had the little imp been good. Old Soul said a regular little preacher. Then Old Soul took his hat off again and said Granny would be worrying if he were late, Granny would think he was out skylarking, and Glenn and Mother watched Old Soul, limping a little and leaning on his cane, walk off slowly down the gravel path between the hoops that kept you off the sunshiny grass where the birds hopped looking for worms. Straight as a ramrod at eightytwo and a Christian Gentleman, was what Mother said Old Soul was, and that that was what little Glenn must always be. They started off the other way towards home, Glenn holding tight to Mother's hand that was warm inside its white glove.


Glenn and Dad were taking a walk downtown; he had a stitch in his side from trying to keep up with Dad's long steps after all the stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy of Mother's Sunday dinner. Glenn's high black shoes pinched his toes and a frayed place on the stiff Eton collar sawed at his neck. The blue serge suit he'd been bought for sundayschool and was beginning to grow out of bound him under the arms. It was Sunday afternoon and he hated it. He was afraid Dad would say something about his black eye. Dad hadn't said anything about it yet. Dad stopped short at the corner to look at a headline on a newspaper on a rack outside of the drugstore. Now he was going to say something. The paper was yesterday's and was all gritty and curled at the edges from being out all day in the dusty fall sun. Glenn gulped a breath. The stitch in his side eased up.

"Puffing, eh?" was what Dad said, looking down with his head on one side the way he had.

Dad took his spectacles out of his case he carried in the inside pocket of his coat, and put them on to see the headline better. Then he said for Glenn to tell him about the fight. Glenn felt his face go all hot; he couldn't say anything but just swallowed a lump.

Dad's glasses were so thick that the way the light struck them it looked like he didn't have any eyes behind the glasses. He was saying slowly that Mother had said Glenn had gotten into a fight sticking up for a smaller boy, and that it was a Christian Gentleman's duty to protect the weak, but it was just as well not to do it in school hours when it was against the rules. Glenn gasped that some big guys who were big bullies had jumped him in recess. Dad went on, pronouncing every letter of each word in the careful poised way he had, like he was speaking to an audience in a hall, to say that guy was an English word for scarecrow and he didn't want his boy picking up slang and fighting and bad manners in school, and he went on telling about Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot and blowing up the Houses of Parliament in England in the reign of King James and the dreadful tortures they had in the olden days, and how they used to burn people at the stake.

Ed Welsh and Joe Herman had had Piggy Green tied up against a post in the basement and had him almost scared to death telling him they were going to burn him at the stake when Glenn had come out of the toilet and said it was a shame. Ed had come towards him on his toes shadowboxing with his fists and asked what did he want to make of it, and Glenn had said all he'd said was that it was a shame, and Ed had socked him right in the eye so that he saw stars like in the funnies, and Joe had tripped him up from behind, and he'd bumped his head on the floor, and that minute the bell had rung and Ed and Joe had beat it and there was Mr. Hines standing over him, and Piggy, the dirty little snitch, had said it was Glenn had tied him up, and Glenn had been sent still blubbering up to the principal and he'd been kept in every day for a week and had to copy A bully is the most despicable of men five hundred times. But he couldn't explain all that to Dad; all he could say was, "Yes, Dad," "No, Dad," while Dad went on lecturing him.


The kids were all fooling round the pond when Jack Simmonds said let's play Washington at Valley Forge. Freddy said it was a slick idea, he always did back up anything Jack said, and Jack said he'd be George Washington and Freddy could be Monseer Lafayette and the rest of them could be the army. When Freddy yelled out that the Kid had to play Benedict Arnold it made Glenn feel all chilly inside. They didn't need to call him the Kid even if he was the youngest of the bunch. He said he didn't want to play Benedict Arnold.

Jack was already George Washington and he had a lath for a sword and Skinny Ames was making him a wig out of a piece of gunnysack. Freddy was saying hadn't they better start with the Declaration of Independence, but Jack said to hell with that, they were at Valley Forge and it was snowing something awful.

Freddy said that would cost Jack a penny because he'd said the first guy that cussed or talked dirty would have to pay a fine. Jack said it didn't count because it was in the part. Freddy said sure George Washington swore awful but he didn't tell lies or say shit. Jack said that would cost Monseer Lafayette a nickel. Freddy said he hadn't said it, he'd just said that George Washington didn't say it. George Washington said all right but the next guy that cussed or talked dirty got a kick in the pants.

Then he said to Benedict Arnold to start his treason and bowed low to Freddy and said in his best elocution voice that it was snowing something awful and that the troops had their feet bound in bloody rags and that the redcoats were all around them and that they were encamped in the valley by the forge and that he hoped there weren't any traitors around because he and Monseer Lafayette were going into their tents to get a few winks of sleep.

Glenn said there weren't any traitors around because he wasn't going to play Benedict Arnold, he wanted to be the Green Mountain Boys and attack the redcoats from the rear; and George Washington jumped up from where he was lying in the grass under the willow tree and said Glenn would damn well play Benedict Arnold or get his block knocked off, and Freddy made a fist under his nose and said sure the Kid was cut out to play Benedict Arnold because his old man was against preparedness and that was the same as a traitor, that was what Freddy had heard his Uncle Will say, he didn't care if that damn Spotswood was a preacher he was against preparedness and that was the same thing as being a traitor to the flag.

Glenn stood facing them with his fists clenched blinking without being able to say anything, until Skinny came towards them across the grass frowning and said well he guessed Freddy was fined that time. Freddy said it was Uncle Will talking but Jack said it didn't work unless he said quotation mark, and just for that Freddy would have to play Cornwallis when they got around to the Surrender of Yorktown.

Freddy said that first they'd ought to try Benedict Arnold for treason and then they'd hang him to a sour apple tree. George Washington said that would be great and made a big speech to the army saying that there was treason in the camp and some caitiff had sold the country to the redcoats and to go, men, and hang the traitor to yon sour apple tree. Glenn felt he was going to cry. He turned and bolted off through the bushes, blubbering as he ran, with all the bunch yelling quitter after him.

There was a little footpath round the edge of the pond that wound between yellowtwigged willows that already had tiny green leaves on them because it was spring. The hoots of the bunch got fainter as Glenn ran, they weren't coming after him. He sat down on a rock at the edge of a little cove. Tadpoles wiggled out of sight when he reached for them. He folded an old piece of theme he had in his pocket into a toy boat. Hoptoads were trilling along the edges of the pond. A little chilly breeze started just as the sun came out and took the boat out of reach into the blue center of the pond.

It was Skinny Ames who had a longer reach than Glenn who fished it back with a stick. Skinny had come up behind him, talking tough out of the side of his mouth, and saying to hell wid 'em he was trough wid dat bunch, let's Glenn and him be outlaws and act like they damn please. Glenn said if he was a traitor he might as well be a traitor. Skinny said solemnly shake, traitor, meet outlaw, and said he'd damn well like to see Jack or any other son of a bitch call either of them a traitor. They'd be outlaws the both of them.

They roamed round the pond, getting their feet wet in the swampy places where the skunkcabbages were thrusting up their fat slushy green leaves, catching tadpoles in an old tin can, watching the hoptoads sitting on each other's backs all round the edges of the water. Glenn asked what the hoptoads were doing. Skinny threw back his head and laughed, shaking his thin sides the way he did and said couldn't he see?

Glenn got cold all over. Skinny said go ahead say it, it wouldn't burn him. Glenn said it and blushed red. Then Skinny caught a couple and showed him how the little one on top with the dark markings was the male and the big fat one was the female and how she was laying her eggs in a long jelly ribbon little by little. The eggs wouldn't hatch out without the male sitting on top and squirting out his jelly on them. Even in Skinny's wet hand the top one went on trilling, puffing out his white neck like a little balloon. Wouldn't they give you warts, Glenn stammered. Skinny screwed up his nose and said he bet Glenn believed in Santa Claus, naw, things didn't hurt you if you weren't ascared of 'em.

They were walking up the brook to a place in the birchwood where Skinny was going to build a treehouse and he was saying he'd let Glenn help and they'd have a slick time trapping muskrats and catching bullfrogs and be outlaws, when they heard the supperbell tinkling distant and silvery through the still afternoon. The sun was setting all yellow and bright behind the birches.

They began to run. Skinny was ahead. About halfway up to the Home House he turned around and said breathless, "Snap it up, boy, stretch 'em."

Dr. Cope was just saying the blessing. They had to stand in the door holding their mouths shut so as not to pant right out. They were in luck because there were two sixthformers late too and they slipped into their places right after them. Glenn looked to see if Mr. Atkins at the end of the table pulled out his book but he didn't; he was talking and laughing about something with the mathematics teacher at the next table. Glenn's heart was pounding so he could hardly eat.

It was reading night, and after supper in the livingroom, Dr. Cope read about Richard Coeur de Lion in his booming voice that faded off now and then and made the words sound so far away and long ago. It ended about how after Richard Coeur de Lion had died in the Holy Land his faithful retainers were bringing back his heart to England and fell into an ambuscade and threw his heart into the center of the fray. When Dr. Cope stopped reading everybody was so quiet you could hear the bids washing dishes in the kitchen and Glenn was all chilly down his back thinking that Skinny's name was Richard too, and that if he'd been his faithful retainer bringing his heart back from the Crusades he never would have thrown it away like that. But Dr. Cope went on booming about the Crusades, and how, when boys went out from these walls and entered the various callings and professions of the great world, he hoped they too would always be crusaders for what was right and just without fear or favor; and he told the story about a town out west where he'd once taught, where there had been an accident to the sewer, and due to some labor disturbance or other there had been nobody to mend that sewer, so that the town was in danger of an epidemic and the boys from the school had volunteered to go down and mend that sewer.

Some boy giggled. Dr. Cope glared round the room and said severely that he'd rather go down into a sewer than into the mind of the boy who giggled. Filing in to study hall Glenn caught himself blushing thinking it was an outlaw he said he'd be with Skinny not a knight. Maybe they could be outlaw knights. Through the open window next his desk as he worked over his French he could smell the skunkcabbagy smell of spring and from way off down at the pond came the trilling of the hoptoads laying their eggs in a long jelly ribbon round the edges of the water.


Glenn had just finished packing his trunk to leave that school because Dad had written he didn't have enough money to keep him there now that he'd lost his position at Columbia on account of this war business, and when he'd come out on the landing with his overcoat on and his hockeystick under his arm, and his skates in his hand that he hadn't been able to get into the trunk, he'd found Skinny there waiting for him. There wasn't anybody else there and Skinny said he'd sneaked out of study hall to say Goodby and Jesus Christ he was sorry Glenn was going. Then he suddenly ran over to Glenn and kissed him on the cheek and Glenn didn't know what to say and all he could say was he was scared. "So am I," said Skinny, and that was the last time Glenn ever saw Skinny Ames.


There was the time Uncle Mat and Aunt Harriet came to Thanksgiving Dinner. The sizzly smell of the turkey and the spices in the stuffing filled the kitchen every time Mother opened the oven door to baste. Glenn had helped lay the table in the cramped diningroom of the little apartment and had filled the two china swans with red white and blue candies and, carefully, with only one or two smudges, had printed out the names on the placecards.

Dad had been around the house all morning getting into Mother's way in the kitchen and frowning as he sat bent almost double reading, with his green eyeshade on, at his desk in the corner of the livingroom. A letter had come from Tyler overseas that morning that had upset Dad a good deal. The letter had said that Tyler wasn't coming home with his outfit but that he had just gotten under the line with his commission at Saumur before the armistice and was going to be sent to Coblenz in the Army of Occupation. Glenn was too excited about Thanksgiving and everybody coming to dinner to pay much attention. He and Mother were attending to everything and Dad was just mooning around, now and then pulling at his sandy mustache with that worried look and taking down first one big book and then another from the top of his desk and setting them down on chairs and forgetting to put them back.

Mother, in her pink apron with her hair in curlers, was leaning over the oven of the gasstove basting the turkey. Glenn was standing beside her with his mouth watering as he watched the little splashes of juice sizzle as they trickled off the kitchen spoon onto the brown tight skin of the turkey. Mother was out of breath. He said couldn't he do that because she'd promised him and Dad she wouldn't do too much. She said never mind, darling, for him to run around the corner to get the icecream at Etienne's. It was all ordered but she was afraid they wouldn't bring it in time, and twentyfive cents' worth of salted almonds, and to be sure to wear his muffler because it was a terribly raw day.


Excerpted from Adventures of a Young Man by John Dos Passos. Copyright © 1939 John Dos Passos. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


I. The Parental Bent,
II. Schooling and Youthful Errors,
III. The Moment of Choice,

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