Manhattan Transfer is an old collectivist novel that presents a cross section of social culture of the characters. Individual lives of characters portray a general picture of the society. The author John Dos Passos is mainly interested in the way the characters solve daily-life problems in the metropolitan area of New York City. This is as opposed to focusing on the individual lives of the characters in Manhattan Transfer. Different social groups are integrated in the novel including poor immigrants and rich people. The protagonists are Ellen Thatcher and Jimmy Herf and their perception of the world is depicted in the novel. Manhattan Transfer goes a long way to deal with metropolitan New York; the images of which have major impacts on the lives of Ellen and Jimmy. This paper will discuss Ellen and Jimmy to show how they typify their environment and ways in which they are exceptions to their society.
Ellen is no doubt an exceptional character. She is introduced to the reader as an individual who gets whatever she wants. For instance, she becomes a dancer and gets rich. She has a craving for success just as her society, New York, has. In fact, Jimmy Herf describes Ellen as a gigantic skyscraper. In relation to the society, skyscrapers are a typical skyline of New York City and a similar reference to Ellen signifies her symbolic character. Ellen aims to achieve high aspirations though she eventually falters emotionally.
Her position in the society is depicted in the reason that she does not succumb in deep depression. Ellen is portrayed as helpless since she looks for something she seemingly cannot achieve. This causes problems with her own identity especially she changes her name several times through her life. For instance, she calls herself Elaine of Lammermoor (Passos, 1991). This shows that she prefers fantasy world to the current life she is living. She ends up losing more and more of her identity while in New York and things often go out of her hands. She exemplifies the typical society in New York whereby most individuals fantasize about the lives they would want to live making them forget the realities of life. She therefore typifies her environment and she is successfully used for this role by the author.
On the other hand, Jimmy Herf is first mentioned in the novel as a youngster; six to ten years. Jimmy expresses his oppression for the city life due to its dirt and noise. He compares the outside world to secrets and fears as well as adventures. His mother died when he was sixteen years old and he changes his decision of starting a career in his uncle's company. Instead, he works hard and becomes a journalist. He marries Ellen Thatcher, a marriage that does not last long. In his later life, Jimmy becomes radically angry with the capitalist injustice that is rampant in his society. This makes him an exceptional character in the novel. He exemplifies the typical visionary individuals in New York City who view the society in a different perspective. Such people feel that there is more to the oppression in the society and aim to turn it around.