Manhattan Transfer

Manhattan Transfer Summary and Analysis of Second Section, Chs. VII-VIII



Stan gets into a drunken brawl in a bar. When he comes to he is sitting on a ferryboat. He mutters to himself, complains he has DT's, curses Pearline Anderson, his twenty-one year-old wife. He makes his way home, practically crawling along, and the next passage we find him in his apartment, sending a chair flying through a window. He is too inebriated to think straight. Finally he lies "on his back on the floor of the revolving kitchen" and laughs. "The only man who survived the flood rose a great lady on a white horse," he thinks. "Up in flames, up, up." He lets off the gasjet and begins trying to light a match. After a few tries, he finally succeeds,

When Pearline returns to her street, she finds her apartment in flames. She has just finished telling Mrs. Robinson, a cashier lady in a grocery store, that although she hasn't seen Stan in two days she is not worried. Her husband, she explains, is in fact quite ambitious and "wants to be an architect." He is apparently going to have his father send the couple abroad so that he may study architecture. When she arrives at the scene of the fire, however, a policeman prevents her from entering the building. She faints before the firemen bring Stan out. "Just overcome by smoke," the policeman says.


Baldwin is riding the subway with Phil Sandbourne, who is just out of the hospital. Claustrophobia is getting the better of him: "I'll be seeing the inside of an undertaking parlor if I dont get out of this subway soon." They exit the train and walk up Lexington Avenue, while Baldwin insists that he is "in a very delicate position downtown" and that he cannot afford a scandal involving him and "The Zinnia Girl" - that is to say, Ellen. He and Cecily have finally achieved a "modus vivendi," as he puts it. The talk shifts to Phil's work and his ideas about "vitreous and superenameled tile." With the ability to "make tile of any color," he argues, the city could become multicolored rather than uniformly gray, and there would "be more love an less divorce."

Ellen is practically assaulted by phone calls in her room: one suitor after another, one man after another for whom she must put on a bright face, and finally even Ruth Prynne herself. Ruth and Cassie come to pay her a visit, and we learn that Stan has died. Ellen's ears "ring sickeningly," and after just a few moments with the two ladies she hurries to the bathroom and pounds on her knees with clenched fists. "Those women'll drive me mad," she thinks. Then she regains her composure and rejoins her friends, as if nothing had happened.

Ellen and Goldweiser stand together on a roof-garden at a society event, gazing over the nocturnal skyline of New York. Goldweiser laments the appetite of the city for rotten farces, the lack of true artistic sense. In a better world, he argues, Ellen would be "the greatest actress" and he "the great producer, the unseen builder." All Ellen can say is the following: "I think this city is full of people wanting inconceivable things." A moment later she turns to Goldweiser and asks: "Can you understand a woman who wants to be a harlot, a common tart, sometimes?" He is surprised. She feels she is about to cry.

Jimmy and Ellen sit at a table full of young men in an Italian restaurant. A heated debate about the rights of the proletariat and the lot of the "downtrodden" is raging. Jimmy is firmly on the side of the proletariat: he compares contemporary New York and America to "the horrible slave civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia." But, he admits, he cannot "blame it all on capitalism." He and Ellen leave together and talk. She complains about her work, remembers how she used to enjoy it. "You see I was a crazy little stagestruck kid who got launched out in a lot of things I didnt understand before I had time to learn anything about life," she says. Meeting Stan, who she loved deeply, changed things: "he made me feel there were other things...unbelievable things..." Finally she confesses that she is pregnant with Stan's baby and that she is going to give up her career and raise it. Jimmy almost breaks down: "O God that's the bravest thing I ever heard of a woman doing," he says.

A woman enters a doctor's office. He gives her an abortion. When all is done, she hails a cab and drives to the Ritz.


Stanwood Emery follows the fate of Bud Korpenning, and Dos Passos presents us with a second suicide. While Bud meets his end in water, Stan finds it in fire. While Bud plummets to his death, Stan climbs the stairs to his upper-story apartment and there commits his final act. While sailors lift Bud up from the river, policemen and firemen carry Stan down from the fire. It is important to consider the emphasis on the vertical in both deaths. New York is posited as a city of highs and lows - literally, in terms of the skyscrapers, apartment buildings, and tenement houses, and figuratively, when it comes to the great social divides between rich and poor, "high" and "low" class.

Stan, of course, is very much the opposite of Bud in social terms, and yet the two operate almost as mirrors of one another. Stan is introduced only ten pages after Bud's demise; it is almost as if he replaces him. Both men die by their own hands in a near-delirious state, and in both cases Dos Passos blends their inner thoughts into the fabric of his omniscient narration, mixing the first- and third-person and thereby molding a kind of hybrid subjectivity out of his characters' desperation. Compare the following passages:

"Beyond black chimneys and lines of roofs faint rosy contours of the downtown buildings were brightening. All the darkness was growing pearly, warming. They're all of em detectives chasin me, all of em, men in derbies, bums on the Bowery, old women in kitchens, barkeeps, streetcar conductors, bulls, hookers, sailors, longshoremen, stiffs in employment agencies..."

"Skyscrapers go up like flames, in flames, flames. He spun back into the room. The table turned a somersault. The chinacloset jumped on the table. Oak chairs climbed on top to the gas jet. Pour on water, Scotland's burning. Don't like the smell in this place in the City of New York, County of New York, State of New York."

The former passage precedes Bud's fall; the latter describe's Stan final moments. Both involve heat, the first the warming of the city as the dawn arrives, the second Stan's imagining of New York on fire. "Faint rosy contours" become "flames," but the underlying concept is the same. Simply put, the city is implicated in these characters' private struggles. Stan and Bud - and, in turn, Dos Passos himself - project their pain and frustration onto the physical landscape that surrounds them. New York thus emerges as a kind of spectre, the Grim Reaper of cities, overseeing these men's deaths just as they launch their final gazes upon it. The inanimate is animate, the dead alive: darkness grows while tables and chairs climb and leap. While Bud imagines an army of New Yorker arrayed against him - "all of em detectives" - Stan sees his own apartment slip into motion. By the time he finally lies down it is on the floor of a "revolving kitchen."

Beyond the physical, however, money rears its ugly head again. Bud's inability to gain it sends him to his death. Conversely, it is perhaps Stan's wealth that kills him. "A thousand dollar fire, a hundredthousand dollar fire, a million dollar fire," Dos Passos writes. The figure of the father looms over both men as well: he who beats Bud and whose murder haunts the guilt-wracked son; and he who bestows riches on Stan but, so far as we can tell, offers no real love, insists instead that his son follow a certain path to success. The pressures of the poor and of the rich lead to the same demise, Dos Passos seems to argue. Whether or not the two suicides can be interpreted as indicative of a larger ill in the writer's eyes, the parallels they present are no doubt worthy of analysis. When Stan dies, no one comes along to take his place; while Bud is never mentioned after his death, Stan reappears in reference after reference, leaving a lasting mark on those who knew him - most of all, Ellen, the lost princess of New York.