Manhattan Transfer Summary – Second Section (Chapters I-VIII)

Front Cover of John Dos Passos's Manhattan Transfer
Bantam Books Classic edition published in 1959 (Purchase on Bookshop.org) – affiliate link

The following is a summary of the Second Section (Chapters I-VIII) of John Dos Passos‘s 1925 novel Manhattan Transfer.

The chapters in this section are as follows:

I. Great Lady on a White Horse
II. Longlegged Jack of the Isthmus
III. Nine Days’ Wonder
IV. Fire Engine
V. Went to the Animals’ Fair
VI. Five Statutory Questions
VII. Rollercoaster
VIII. One More River to Jordan

See also: First Section, Third Section

Second Section

I. Great Lady on a White Horse

Jimmy goes to see Ruth Prynne. He is now a cub reporter, she unemployed. He meets Cassie Wilkins, along with Mr. Oglethorpe and his wife. They are all struggling theater people. Jimmy and Ruth to go to lunch.

Ellen walking around, Lincoln Square, the Park. She gets on a bus, watching and listening to the people around her. She meets George Baldwin in the Brevoort. They discuss her husband. Baldwin’s acquaintance Stanwood Emery sits down, says he saw Ellen perform in a show. She dashes off and Ellen’s husband “Jojo” arrives. She soon leaves and finds Stanwood waiting for her outside, she gets into his car.

II. Longlegged Jack of the Isthmus

Joe Harland at work, typing. Gets a note that his boss, Mr. Pollock, wants to see him. He gets fired. 45 years old. Roaming the Battery, he goes to a bar and gives a drunken speech about how he was a rich man on Wall Street for many years.

A Western Union boy on a subway, gets off and goes to a deli. Says to himself he’ll deliver his telegrams. Breaks into an apartment building and begins to rob it when he is caught by Ellen and an unidentified man. He tells them that he was fired a week ago and is desperate. They give him a dollar in order to get him to leave. The boy, Nicky Schatz, is a common thief, the Western Union uniform a cover. Finds out that the roll of bills he stole is actually stage money.

Ellie and Stan in bed. They leave and wander the city, stop to eat. She starts to feel miserable while he is happily drunk. She leaves, conflicted.

Jimmy and Ruth in a restaurant. She tells him about gossip going on at the rooming house –Jojo had a gun on his wife, was disarmed and sought comfort in the arms of another man, Tony Hunter.

Joe Harland in his room. Poor and feeling stuck, he is confronted by his landlady, Mrs. Budkowitz, who wants three weeks back rent. He gives her the key and storms out. Goes to a stationery store, run by an old employee of his named Felsius who he hasn’t seen in five years. He asks the man for a loan, is refused, takes a 50 cent piece and leaves.

Cassie and Morris McAvoy leaving the movies. They go to a drugstore and then a walk in the park. Argue and bicker about money and her being too “upstage.”

Ellen in her room, packing her trunk. Cassie appears at the door, crying, says she broke it off with Morris. Ellen is rushing to leave in order to avoid another scene with Jojo. She heads to the Hotel Brevoort. At first she loves the freedom but soon begins to feel alone and scared.

III. Nine Days’ Wonder

Phil Sandborne and Hartly talking, decide to go for a walk to get food. Phil begins to watch a girl in a taxi. Distracted by her, he’s hit from behind and taken away in an ambulance.

Jimmy in bed, is awoken by Stan. Jimmy goes to the bathroom to do all of his morning things, runs into his landlady, Mrs. Maginnis. Back in his room with Stan, who says he has been “fired from college.” Jimmy dreaming of far-off places. They drive in Stan’s car to get lunch and drink. Jimmy is tired of newspaper work, Stan well off because of his father. They go to a garage to get Stan’s muffler fixed, then onto the Hotel Lafayette. They go to the Café to see Ellie, only to find that JoJo is there as well. Uncomfortable, Stan leaves, followed shortly by JoJo, leaving Ellie and Jimmy alone.

Joe Harland in a rundown lunchroom, trying to sleep. Others around him are arguing. He yells at the woman to shut up and then leaves, is eyed by a policeman.

Ellen and Harry Goldweiser talking, he asks her how she likes “being a nine days’ wonder.”

George sitting at the breakfast table with his wife, Cecily, “a tall woman with a mass of carefully curled chestnut hair piled on top of her head.” She says that she can’t stand it, that it’s over, that he married her for social position. He notices the headline in the paper – the Archduke Ferdinand has been assassinated. Cecily runs out, George chases her outside and brings her back up, tells her Mrs. Oglethorpe is just a friend. Cecily says that there have been other women. George is worried about potential scandal, Cecily about love. He leaves for work.

Ellen is unpacking in her new apartment. Cassie comes by. Ellen makes tea, says that her show is to go on the road in three weeks. Cassie upset, thinks she’s pregnant. Ellen suggests an abortion, says she’s been through it herself and tries to convince Cassie to take care of it right now.

Joe Harland now a night watchman at a construction site. A union man, Joe O’Keefe, comes by and tries to get him to sign up. Harland is not interested and warns O’Keefe not to get mixed up with labor relations.

Jimmy reading in an apartment that he is acting as caretaker of while Lester is abroad. Stan appears at the door, drunk, wants to use the room for a tryst, Jimmy says okay. Later on Jimmy is in bed and Elaine comes in wearing only a sheet and hides in the closet, doesn’t want to see JoJo. JoJo is on the fire escape, screaming. Eventually he leaves. Stan thinks the whole thing is hilarious. Elaine returns to Stan and Jimmy to the bedroom. Jimmy is tired of them all.

Ed Thatcher in a bay window reading papers, comes across an item about Stan and Ellen in the gossip column. Ellen rings the doorbell. Her show is going on the road but she’s not going with it, needs to find a job. Tells her father that she is getting divorced. Mrs. Culveteer arrives. She encourages Ed to go to church, praises Ellen’s stage career, and leaves. Ellen and her father go to the Sagamore Cafeteria for lunch.

IV. Fire Engine

Ellen and Harry Goldweiser in Central Park. He offers her himself, she ignores it. He buys her balloons and she gives them to little girls. They agreed to go to Coney Island.

George Baldwin and Gus McNiel discussing Gus’s case against Judge Connor. Joe O’Keefe is ushered in, tells them that the Contractors and Builders Association is going to declare a lockout and that the union is going to fight. Joe leaves. George tells Gus not to get involved in union stuff. Joe meets Buck at the elevator and then goes out. It begins to rain, he takes a car uptown. Near Madison Square Garden he finds Joe Harland sitting on a bench. They talk, O’Keefe gives him a dollar and Harland goes to a bar.

Ellen and Stan backstage, he is drunk. Milly comes in to help Ellen dress. They put Stan in the bathtub to pass out. Ellen runs to get onstage in time. After the show Harry and Sol Fallik, a publicity man, praise her in her dressing room. After they leave Ellen and Milly wake Stan, who is soaked. They put them in a dry dress and rush him into a taxicab. Go to Ellen’s place. A fire engine passes them on the way to a fire. This set his clothes out to dry by the stove.

V. Went to the Animals’ Fair

George and Ellen take a taxi cab to a roadhouse, talk of the war in Europe. There they bump into Gus McNiel, “a rednecked snubnosed man,” and his wife. George and Ellen go to a table, she orders steamed clams. George tells her about being in love with Gus’s wife, and about their case long ago. He tells her that he is tired of practicing law and that all he wants is to be with her. She rebuffs him, sights Tony Hunter and Jimmy Herf across the room.

Jimmy and Tony talk about the war and about the Canarsie murder case, which took place nearby the club. With them is Framingham, “a tall ceremonious man with a wispy blond mustache,” and Grant Bullock of the American. Congo Jake is tending bar. Jimmy sees Ellen. Jimmy and Grant go to the bar to talk to Congo about the murder.

George tells Ellen she’s the only thing he ever wanted, she tells him to stop talking like that. Congo singing, Jimmy drinking alone, Gus and Bullock discuss current events. Joey interrupts. Congo and Jimmy talk about Congo’s past. Ellen asks Jimmy to help her get away from George. Talk about the war. Jimmy and Ellen dance. George, drunk and wild, brandishes a gun at Ellen, Gus takes it away. Jimmy and Ellen take a walk to see the murder cottage and then both get into a taxi but she asks him to get out and he does.

Nellie, alone at her table, watches George. Bullock, Joe O’Keefe, and Jimmy talk about the war. Jimmy leaves them to walk home, Tony joins him, tells Jimmy that he is gay and is going to kill himself. It begins to rain and Tony leaves to go into a subway station. Jimmy walks on, head swirling with thoughts about war and violence.

VI. Five Statutory Questions

Joe Harland visiting Joe O’Keefe at home. O’Keefe tells Harland about George Baldwin brandishing a gun at the club. Talk turns to the war. O’Keefe’s brother Mike shows up drunk. O’Keefe threatens to kick him out and their mother steps in. She sends Mike to his room and kicks Harland out.

Ellen in bed, waking up. She takes a bath, dresses and goes out on a long walk. Suddenly she feels weak in the knees and retraces her path back.

Ellen talking with Dick Snow about getting a divorce from Jojo. Harry Goldweiser approaches. They are joined by his sister Rachel, “a dumpy woman in a spangled dress,” and go to lunch. Talk of the theater and acting. They take a taxi to the Astor’s roof garden. Ellen and Harry dance, he pleads again to marry her. Stan appears with a girl, Pearline Anderson, and says that they are married. Ellen upset.

Jimmy Herf exhausted from walking. Takes a seat on a bench by the aquarium. A man recognizes him – turns out to be Joe Harland, Jimmy’s cousin. They talk of Jimmy’s mother and his ambition. Jimmy says he wants to go to war. He is agitated when he sees Ellen’s photo in the paper. Jimmy and Joe go to a restaurant.

VII. Rollercoaster

Stan at the annual dance of the Louis Expresso Association. Gus McNiel arrives to warm greetings all around. Stan, drunk, stands on a chair to give a rambling speech, is beat up and thrown out. He comes to on a ferry boat. Gets out at the Battery, shaky.

Stan in his apartment, drunk and spinning. Wild, he throws a chair. There’s a fire nearby. He lays in a puddle of kerosene, striking matches until one lights.

Pearline at the grocery store telling Mrs. Robinson how ambitious Stan is. She hasn’t seen him in two days but stresses that she isn’t worried. Walks home to find a fire raging in her apartment. The police hold her back, tell her that they’re bringing Stan down and she faints.

VIII. One More River To Jordan

George and Phil on the subway, they get out at Grand Central. Phil, recently out of the hospital, remembers little of the accident. He is working on a new formula for tile, George refuses to go in on it with him and Phil abruptly walks off.

Ellen at home, Harry calls, then Howard. She wants to be left alone. Ruth calls and Ellen tells her to come by. Larry Hopkins calls. Ruth arrives with Cassie, they offer their condolences on Stan’s death. Ellen hides in the bathroom to get herself together as they are driving her crazy, but she keeps up appearances. They take a taxi to Eugenie’s on 448th St.

Ellen arm in arm with Harry Goldweiser on a rooftop garden, talking of dreams and desires. She suggests that they dance. She leaves in a taxi, alone, thinking about how she is pregnant with Stan’s child. She arrived at the home of Mrs. Staunton Wells.

Ellen and Jimmy at an Italian restaurant with Martin, who is going on about unions. Ellen and Jimmy escape. They walk and talk of work and Stan. She tells him that she is pregnant and is going to raise the child. You want to express his love to her but she runs off before he can and he is frustrated.

Ellen and Larry on a ferry, she says she’s numb.

Ellen at Dr. Abrams, where she gets an abortion. Afterwards she goes to the Ritz.

Next: Manhattan Transfer Summary – Third Section – (Chapters I-V)

See also

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