Places: Three Soldiers

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1921

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: 1917-1919

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedArmy camp

Army Three Soldierscamp. U.S. training camp in which the novel’s three soldiers prepare to be sent overseas. In the boring, restrictive confines of army camp life, Andrews, Chrisfield, and Fuselli chafe under the dull monotony of daily training and routine designed to force them to perform their tasks in lock-step automation. Ill-trained for combat, their unit departs by ship to France, where the three young men begin another period of boredom while awaiting their assignment to the war front.


*France. While waiting for orders to move to the front, the men get their first look at the shell-shocked and wounded men returning from a battle at the Argonne Forest. As they confront the realities of battle injuries and exhaustion, their ardor for fighting the “Huns” begins to cool, and they resent even more the endless routine and orders to march here and there seemingly without purpose. When their orders finally come through, Fuselli’s spirits lift. He wants to move up in the ranks to corporal and is eager for the glory that frontline combat will give him a chance to earn. However, his sergeant’s promises are false and the promotion he expects goes to another. Fuselli gives up on himself and insults the sergeant, and is arrested for insubordination.

As the troop train moves slowly through the darkness, it passes a hospital train returning from the front, and a rumor spreads that Germans have attacked the hospital train. Finally arriving in an unnamed village, the men spend more hours sitting on their packs, waiting. After they march to the camping area, they visit a local café and are soon bragging about encounters with French wine and women.

As the army unit machine rolls through Dijon, with its clusters of little brick and stucco houses, Chrisfield is reminded of the peacefulness of his home in Indiana. From the train, the soldiers march to the front, sleeping on the ground like animals, covering their fears with grumbling about the rain, the mud, and tasteless food. As they reach the war and finally come under attack, the realities of the noise of battle, the “stinking uniforms,” and the smell of death surround them; the men grow frightened and fractious. Chrisfield’s hatred for his sergeant builds until he kills him during a battle.

After Andrews is wounded, he is taken to a hospital behind the lines. Before the doctors release him, the war is over. Men are no longer fighting, but they cannot yet go home. The mechanized army sits and rusts, while the terms of the treaty are negotiated.

Andrews is assigned to a school in Paris at which he can continue his studies in music. There, he is befriended by a Parisian family. He travels to the seashore with their daughter, Genevieve. The beauty of the country and sunshine at the seashore refresh his spirit, and he begins to compose music again. However, because he is away from Paris without his papers, he is arrested by military police and placed in a prison camp, where he sees Fuselli. Andrews escapes, discards his uniform, and returns to Paris and Genevieve. However, she scorns him as a deserter. He composes music until his money is gone and his landlady reports him to the police. He is arrested for desertion and faces a long prison term.

BibliographyBrantley, John. The Fiction of John Dos Passos. The Hague: Mouton, 1968. Surveys the novels chronologically, discussing the structure of Three Soldiers as well conceived but less successfully executed. Shows how each of the three soldiers is destroyed by the military machine.Clark, Michael. Dos Passos’s Early Fiction. Selinsgrove, Pa.: Susquehanna University Press, 1987. Considers Walt Whitman’s poetry and William James’s psychology as the main influences on this novel, and gives a psychological interpretation of the principal characters.Cooperman, Stanley. “John Dos Passos’ Three Soldiers.” In The First World War in Fiction, edited by Holger Klein. London: Macmillan, 1978. Still the standard and most extensive reading of the novel, emphasizing its foreshadowing of the U.S.A. trilogy. The editor’s excellent introductory essay provides a context for novels about the Great War.Sanders, David. John Dos Passos: A Comprehensive Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1987. The brief annotations are particularly helpful, and a section is devoted to Three Soldiers. Especially valuable is the listing of the reviews the novel received when it first appeared.
Categories: Places