Produced by Eve Sobol
By John Dos Passos
LIST OF CONTENTS
PART ONE: MAKING THE MOULD
PART TWO: THE METAL COOLS
PART THREE: MACHINES
PART FOUR: RUST
PART FIVE: THE WORLD OUTSIDE
PART SIX: UNDER THE WHEELS
"Les contemporains qui souffrent de certaines choses ne peuvent
s'en souvenir qu'avec une horreur qui paralyse tout autre plaisir,
meme celui de lire un conte."
PART ONE: MAKING THE MOULD
The company stood at attention, each man looking straight before him
at the empty parade ground, where the cinder piles showed purple with
evening. On the wind that smelt of barracks and disinfectant there was
a faint greasiness of food cooking. At the other side of the wide field
long lines of men shuffled slowly into the narrow wooden shanty that was
the mess hall. Chins down, chests out, legs twitching and tired from the
afternoon's drilling, the company stood at attention. Each man stared
straight in front of him, some vacantly with resignation, some trying
to amuse themselves by noting minutely every object in their field of
vision, - the cinder piles, the long shadows of the barracks and mess
halls where they could see men standing about, spitting, smoking,
leaning against clapboard walls. Some of the men in line could hear
their watches ticking in their pockets.
Someone moved, his feet making a crunching noise in the cinders.
The sergeant's voice snarled out: "You men are at attention. Quit yer
wrigglin' there, you!"
The men nearest the offender looked at him out of the corners of their
Two officers, far out on the parade ground, were coming towards them. By
their gestures and the way they walked, the men at attention could see
that they were chatting about something that amused them. One of the
officers laughed boyishly, turned away and walked slowly back across
the parade ground. The other, who was the lieutenant, came towards them
smiling. As he approached his company, the smile left his lips and he
advanced his chin, walking with heavy precise steps.
"Sergeant, you may dismiss the company." The lieutenant's voice was
pitched in a hard staccato.
The sergeant's hand snapped up to salute like a block signal. "Companee
dis...missed," he rang out.
The row of men in khaki became a crowd of various individuals with dusty
boots and dusty faces. Ten minutes later they lined up and marched in a
column of fours to mess. A few red filaments of electric lights gave a
dusty glow in the brownish obscurity where the long tables and benches
and the board floors had a faint smell of garbage mingled with the smell
of the disinfectant the tables had been washed off with after the last
meal. The men, holding their oval mess kits in front of them, filed by
the great tin buckets at the door, out of which meat and potatoes were
splashed into each plate by a sweating K.P. in blue denims.
"Don't look so bad tonight," said Fuselli to the man opposite him as he
hitched his sleeves up at the wrists and leaned over his steaming food.
He was sturdy, with curly hair and full vigorous lips that he smacked
hungrily as he ate.
"It ain't," said the pink flaxen-haired youth opposite him, who wore his
broad-brimmed hat on the side of his head with a certain jauntiness:
"I got a pass tonight," said Fuselli, tilting his head vainly.
"Goin' to tear things up?"
"Man...I got a girl at home back in Frisco. She's a good kid."
"Yer right not to go with any of the girls in this goddam town.... They
ain't clean, none of 'em.... That is if ye want to go overseas."
The flaxen-haired youth leaned across the table earnestly.
"I'm goin' to git some more chow: Wait for me, will yer?" said Fuselli.
"What yer going to do down town?" asked the flaxen-haired youth when
Fuselli came back.
"Dunno, - run round a bit an' go to the movies," he answered, filling his
mouth with potato.
"Gawd, it's time fer retreat." They overheard a voice behind them.
Fuselli stuffed his mouth as full as he could and emptied the rest of
his meal reluctantly into the garbage pail.
A few moments later he stood stiffly at attention in a khaki row that
was one of hundreds of other khaki rows, identical, that filled all
sides of the parade ground, while the bugle blew somewhere at the other
end where the flag-pole was. Somehow it made him think of the man behind
the desk in the office of the draft board who had said, handing him the
papers sending him to camp, "I wish I was going with you," and had held
out a white bony hand that Fuselli, after a moment's hesitation, had
taken in his own stubby brown hand. The man had added fervently, "It
must be grand, just grand, to feel the danger, the chance of being
potted any minute. Good luck, young feller.... Good luck." Fuselli
remembered unpleasantly his paper-white face and the greenish look
of his bald head; but the words had made him stride out of the office
sticking out his chest, brushing truculently past a group of men in the
door. Even now the memory of it, mixing with the strains of the national
anthem made him feel important, truculent.
"Squads right!" same an order. Crunch, crunch, crunch in the gravel. The
companies were going back to their barracks. He wanted to smile but he
didn't dare. He wanted to smile because he had a pass till midnight,
because in ten minutes he'd be outside the gates, outside the green
fence and the sentries and the strands of barbed wire. Crunch, crunch,
crunch; oh, they were so slow in getting back to the barracks and he was
losing time, precious free minutes. "Hep, hep, hep," cried the sergeant,
glaring down the ranks, with his aggressive bulldog expression, to where
someone had fallen out of step.
The company stood at attention in the dusk. Fuselli was biting the
inside of his lips with impatience. Minutes at last, as if reluctantly,
the sergeant sang out:
Fuselli hurried towards the gate, brandishing his pass with an important
Once out on the asphalt of the street, he looked down the long row of
lawns and porches where violet arc lamps already contested the faint
afterglow, drooping from their iron stalks far above the recently
planted saplings of the avenue. He stood at the corner slouched against
a telegraph pole, with the camp fence, surmounted by three strands of
barbed wire, behind him, wondering which way he would go. This was a
hell of a town anyway. And he used to think he wanted to travel
round and see places. - "Home'll be good enough for me after this," he
muttered. Walking down the long street towards the centre of town,
where was the moving-picture show, he thought of his home, of the dark
apartment on the ground floor of a seven-storey house where his aunt
lived. "Gee, she used to cook swell," he murmured regretfully.
On a warm evening like this he would have stood round at the corner
where the drugstore was, talking to fellows he knew, giggling when the
girls who lived in the street, walking arm and arm, twined in couples or
trios, passed by affecting ignorance of the glances that followed them.
Or perhaps he would have gone walking with Al, who worked in the same
optical-goods store, down through the glaring streets of the theatre
and restaurant quarter, or along the wharves and ferry slips, where they
would have sat smoking and looking out over the dark purple harbor, with
its winking lights and its moving ferries spilling swaying reflections
in the water out of their square reddish-glowing windows. If they had
been lucky, they would have seen a liner come in through the Golden
Gate, growing from a blur of light to a huge moving brilliance, like the
front of a high-class theatre, that towered above the ferry boats. You
could often hear the thump of the screw and the swish of the bow
cutting the calm baywater, and the sound of a band playing, that came
alternately faint and loud. "When I git rich," Fuselli had liked to say
to Al, "I'm going to take a trip on one of them liners."
"Yer dad come over from the old country in one, didn't he?" Al would
"Oh, he came steerage. I'd stay at home if I had to do that. Man, first
class for me, a cabin de lux, when I git rich."
But here he was in this town in the East, where he didn't know anybody
and where there was no place to go but the movies.
"'Lo, buddy," came a voice beside him. The tall youth who had sat
opposite at mess was just catching up to him. "Goin' to the movies?"
"Yare, nauthin' else to do."
"Here's a rookie. Just got to camp this mornin'," said the tall youth,
jerking his head in the direction of the man beside him.
"You'll like it. Ain't so bad as it seems at first," said Fuselli
"I was just telling him," said the other, "to be careful as hell not to
get in wrong. If ye once get in wrong in this damn army... it's hell."
"You bet yer life... so they sent ye over to our company, did they,
rookie? Ain't so bad. The sergeant's sort o' decent if yo're in right
with him, but the lieutenant's a stinker.... Where you from?"
"New York," said the rookie, a little man of thirty with an ash-colored
face and a shiny Jewish nose. "I'm in the clothing business there. I
oughtn't to be drafted at all. It's an outrage. I'm consumptive." He
spluttered in a feeble squeaky voice.
"They'll fix ye up, don't you fear," said the tall youth. "They'll make
you so goddam well ye won't know yerself. Yer mother won't know ye, when
you get home, rookie.... But you're in luck."
"Bein' from New York. The corporal, Tim Sidis, is from New York, an' all
the New York fellers in the company got a graft with him."
"What kind of cigarettes d'ye smoke?" asked the tall youth.
"I don't smoke."
"Ye'd better learn. The corporal likes fancy ciggies and so does the
sergeant; you jus' slip 'em each a butt now and then. May help ye to get
in right with 'em."
"Don't do no good," said Fuselli.... "It's juss luck. But keep neat-like
and smilin' and you'll get on all right. And if they start to ride ye,
show fight. Ye've got to be hard boiled to git on in this army."
"Ye're goddam right," said the tall youth. "Don't let 'em ride yer....
What's yer name, rookie?"
"This feller's name's Powers.... Bill Powers. Mine's Fuselli.... Goin'
to the movies, Mr. Eisenstein?"
"No, I'm trying to find a skirt." The little man leered wanly. "Glad to
have got ackwainted."
"Goddam kike!" said Powers as Eisenstein walked off up a side street,
planted, like the avenue, with saplings on which the sickly leaves
rustled in the faint breeze that smelt of factories and coal dust.
"Kikes ain't so bad," said Fuselli, "I got a good friend who's a kike."
They were coming out of the movies in a stream of people in which the
blackish clothes of factory-hands predominated.
"I came near bawlin' at the picture of the feller leavin' his girl to go
off to the war," said Fuselli.
"It was just like it was with me. Ever been in Frisco, Powers?"
The tall youth shook his head. Then he took off his broad-brimmed hat
and ran his fingers over his stubby tow-head.
"Gee, it was some hot in there," he muttered.
"Well, it's like this," said Fuselli. "You have to cross the ferry to
Oakland. My aunt... ye know I ain't got any mother, so I always live
at my aunt's.... My aunt an' her sister-in-law an' Mabe... Mabe's my
girl... they all came over on the ferry-boat, 'spite of my tellin' 'em I
didn't want 'em. An' Mabe said she was mad at me, 'cause she'd seen the
letter I wrote Georgine Slater. She was a toughie, lived in our street,
I used to write mash notes to. An' I kep' tellin' Mabe I'd done it juss
for the hell of it, an' that I didn't mean nawthin' by it. An' Mabe said
she wouldn't never forgive me, an' then I said maybe I'd be killed an'
she'd never see me again, an' then we all began to bawl. Gawd! it was a
"It's hell sayin' good-by to girls," said Powers, understandingly. "Cuts
a feller all up. I guess it's better to go with coosies. Ye don't have
to say good-by to them."
"Ever gone with a coosie?"
"Not exactly," admitted the tall youth, blushing all over his pink face,
so that it was noticeable even under the ashen glare of the arc lights
on the avenue that led towards camp.
"I have," said Fuselli, with a certain pride. "I used to go with a
Portugee girl. My but she was a toughie. I've given all that up now I'm
engaged, though.... But I was tellin' ye.... Well, we finally made up
an' I kissed her an' Mabe said she'd never marry any one but me. So when
we was walkin" up the street I spied a silk service flag in a winder,
that was all fancy with a star all trimmed up to beat the band, an' I
said to myself, I'm goin' to give that to Mabe, an' I ran in an' bought
it. I didn't give a hoot in hell what it cost. So when we was all
kissin' and bawlin' when I was goin' to leave them to report to the
overseas detachment, I shoved it into her hand, an' said, 'Keep that,
girl, an' don't you forgit me.' An' what did she do but pull out a
five-pound box o' candy from behind her back an' say, 'Don't make
yerself sick, Dan.' An' she'd had it all the time without my knowin' it.
Ain't girls clever?"
"Yare," said the tall youth vaguely.
Along the rows of cots, when Fuselli got back to the barracks, men were
"There's hell to pay, somebody's broke out of the jug."
"Damned if I know."
"Sergeant Timmons said he made a rope of his blankets."
"No, the feller on guard helped him to get away."
"Like hell he did. It was like this. I was walking by the guardhouse
when they found out about it."
"What company did he belong ter?"
"What's his name?"
"Some guy on trial for insubordination. Punched an officer in the jaw."
"I'd a liked to have seen that."
"Anyhow he's fixed himself this time."
"You're goddam right."
"Will you fellers quit talkin'? It's after taps," thundered the
sergeant, who sat reading the paper at a little board desk at the door
of the barracks under the feeble light of one small bulb, carefully
screened. "You'll have the O. D. down on us."
Fuselli wrapped the blanket round his head and prepared to sleep.
Snuggled down into the blankets on the narrow cot, he felt sheltered
from the sergeant's thundering voice and from the cold glare of
officers' eyes. He felt cosy and happy like he had felt in bed at home,
when he had been a little kid. For a moment he pictured to himself the
other man, the man who had punched an officer's jaw, dressed like he
was, maybe only nineteen, the same age like he was, with a girl like
Mabe waiting for him somewhere. How cold and frightful it must feel to
be out of the camp with the guard looking for you! He pictured himself
running breathless down a long street pursued by a company with guns, by
officers whose eyes glinted cruelly like the pointed tips of bullets.
He pulled the blanket closer round his head, enjoying the warmth and
softness of the wool against his cheek. He must remember to smile at
the sergeant when he passed him off duty. Somebody had said there'd be
promotions soon. Oh, he wanted so hard to be promoted. It'd be so swell
if he could write back to Mabe and tell her to address her letters
Corporal Dan Fuselli. He must be more careful not to do anything that
would get him in wrong with anybody. He must never miss an opportunity
to show them what a clever kid he was. "Oh, when we're ordered overseas,
I'll show them," he thought ardently, and picturing to himself long
movie reels of heroism he went off to sleep.
A sharp voice beside his cot woke him with a jerk.
"Get up, you."
The white beam of a pocket searchlight was glaring in the face of the
man next to him.
"The O. D." said Fuselli to himself.
"Get up, you," came the sharp voice again.
The man in the next cot stirred and opened his eyes.
"Here, sir," muttered the man in the next cot, his eyes blinking
sleepily in the glare of the flashlight. He got out of bed and stood
unsteadily at attention.
"Don't you know better than to sleep in your O. D. shirt? Take it off."
"What's your name?"
The man looked up, blinking, too dazed to speak. "Don't know your own
name, eh?" said the officer, glaring at the man savagely, using his curt
voice like a whip. - "Quick, take off yer shirt and pants and get back to
The Officer of the Day moved on, flashing his light to one side and
the other in his midnight inspection of the barracks. Intense blackness
again, and the sound of men breathing deeply in sleep, of men snoring.
As he went to sleep Fuselli could hear the man beside him swearing,
monotonously, in an even whisper, pausing now and then to think of new
filth, of new combinations of words, swearing away his helpless anger,
soothing himself to sleep by the monotonous reiteration of his swearing.
A little later Fuselli woke with a choked nightmare cry. He had dreamed
that he had smashed the O. D. in the jaw and had broken out of the jug
and was running, breathless, stumbling, falling, while the company on
guard chased him down an avenue lined with little dried-up saplings,
gaining on him, while with voices metallic as the clicking of rifle
triggers officers shouted orders, so that he was certain to be caught,
certain to be shot. He shook himself all over, shaking off the nightmare
as a dog shakes off water, and went back to sleep again, snuggling into
John Andrews stood naked in the center of a large bare room, of which
the walls and ceiling and floor were made of raw pine boards. The air
was heavy from the steam heat. At a desk in one corner a typewriter
"Say, young feller, d'you know how to spell imbecility?"
John Andrews walked over to the desk, told him, and added, "Are you
going to examine me?"
The man went on typewriting without answering. John Andrews stood in
the center of the floor with his arms folded, half amused, half angry,
shifting his weight from one foot to the other, listening to the sound
of the typewriter and of the man's voice as he read out each word of the
report he was copying.
"Recommendation for discharge"... click, click..."Damn this
typewriter.... Private Coe Elbert"... click, click. "Damn these rotten
army typewriters.... Reason... mental deficiency. History of Case...." At
that moment the recruiting sergeant came back. "Look here, if you don't
have that recommendation ready in ten minutes Captain Arthurs'll be mad
as hell about it, Hill. For God's sake get it done. He said already that
if you couldn't do the work, to get somebody who could. You don't want
to lose your job do you?"
"Hullo," the sergeant's eyes lit on John Andrews, "I'd forgotten you.
Run around the room a little.... No, not that way. Just a little so I
can test yer heart.... God, these rookies are thick."
While he stood tamely being prodded and measured, feeling like a prize
horse at a fair, John Andrews listened to the man at the typewriter,
whose voice went on monotonously. "No... record of sexual dep.... O hell,
this eraser's no good!... pravity or alcoholism; spent... normal... youth
on farm. App-ear-ance normal though im... say, how many 'm's' in
"All right, put yer clothes on," said the recruiting sergeant. "Quick, I
can't spend all day. Why the hell did they send you down here alone?"
"The papers were balled up," said Andrews.
"Scores ten years... in test B," went on the voice of the man at the
typewriter. "Sen... exal ment... m-e-n-t-a-l-i-t-y that of child of eight.
Seems unable... to either.... Goddam this man's writin'. How kin I copy
it when he don't write out his words?"
"All right. I guess you'll do. Now there are some forms to fill out.
Come over here."
Andrews followed the recruiting sergeant to a desk in the far corner of
the room, from which he could hear more faintly the click, click of the
typewriter and the man's voice mumbling angrily.
"Forgets to obey orders.... Responds to no form of per... suasion.
"All right. Take this to barracks B.... Fourth building, to the right;
shake a leg," said the recruiting sergeant.
Andrews drew a deep breath of the sparkling air outside. He stood
irresolutely a moment on the wooden steps of the building looking down
the row of hastily constructed barracks. Some were painted green, some
were of plain boards, and some were still mere skeletons. Above his
head great piled, rose-tinted clouds were moving slowly across the
immeasurable free sky. His glance slid down the sky to some tall trees
that flamed bright yellow with autumn outside the camp limits, and then
to the end of the long street of barracks, where was a picket fence
and a sentry walking to and fro, to and fro. His brows contracted for
a moment. Then he walked with a sort of swagger towards the fourth
building to the right.
John Andrews was washing windows. He stood in dirty blue denims at the
top of a ladder, smearing with a soapy cloth the small panes of the
barrack windows. His nostrils were full of a smell of dust and of the
sandy quality of the soap. A little man with one lined greyish-red cheek
puffed out by tobacco followed him up also on a ladder, polishing the
panes with a dry cloth till they shone and reflected the mottled cloudy
sky. Andrews's legs were tired from climbing up and down the ladder, his
hands were sore from the grittiness of the soap; as he worked he looked
down, without thinking, on rows of cots where the blankets were all
folded the same way, on some of which men were sprawled in attitudes of
utter relaxation. He kept remarking to himself how strange it was that
he was not thinking of anything. In the last few days his mind seemed to
have become a hard meaningless core.
"How long do we have to do this?" he asked the man who was working with
him. The man went on chewing, so that Andrews thought he was not going
to answer at all. He was just beginning to speak again when the man,
balancing thoughtfully on top of his ladder, drawled out:
"We won't finish today then?"
The man shook his head and wrinkled his face into a strange spasm as he
"Been here long?"
"Not so long."
"Three months.... Ain't so long." The man spat again, and climbing down
from his ladder waited, leaning against the wall, until Andrews should
finish soaping his window.
"I'll go crazy if I stay here three months.... I've been here a week,"
muttered Andrews between his teeth as he climbed down and moved his
ladder to the next window.
They both climbed their ladders again in silence.
"How's it you're in Casuals?" asked Andrews again.
"Ain't got no lungs."
"Why don't they discharge you?"
"Reckon they're going to, soon."
They worked on in silence for a long time. Andrews stared at the upper
right-hand corner and smeared with soap each pane of the window in turn.
Then he climbed down, moved his ladder, and started on the next window.
At times he would start in the middle of the window for variety. As he
worked a rhythm began pushing its way through the hard core of his mind,
leavening it, making it fluid. It expressed the vast dusty dullness, the
men waiting in rows on drill fields, standing at attention, the monotony
of feet tramping in unison, of the dust rising from the battalions going
back and forth over the dusty drill fields. He felt the rhythm filling
his whole body, from his sore hands to his legs, tired from marching
back and forth from making themselves the same length as millions of
other legs. His mind began unconsciously, from habit, working on it,
orchestrating it. He could imagine a vast orchestra swaying with it. His
heart was beating faster. He must make it into music; he must fix it in
himself, so that he could make it into music and write it down, so that
orchestras could play it and make the ears of multitudes feel it, make
their flesh tingle with it.
He went on working through the endless afternoon, climbing up and down
his ladder, smearing the barrack windows with a soapy rag. A silly
phrase took the place of the welling of music in his mind: "Arbeit
und Rhythmus." He kept saying it over and over to himself: "Arbeit und
Rhythmus." He tried to drive the phrase out of his mind, to bury his
mind in the music of the rhythm that had come to him, that expressed the
dusty boredom, the harsh constriction of warm bodies full of gestures
and attitudes and aspirations into moulds, like the moulds toy soldiers