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

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 Third Section (Chapters I-V) of John Dos Passos‘s 1925 novel Manhattan Transfer.

The chapters in this section are as follows:

I. Rejoicing City That Dwelt Carelessly
II. Nickelodeon
III. Revolving Doors
IV. Skyscraper
V. The Burthen of Nineveh

See also: First Section, Second Section

Third Section

I. Rejoicing City That Dwelt Carelessly

Capt. James Merivale, “a tall straightfeatured young man with a slight heaviness under the chin,” is at the barber, just back from overseas. The war is over. He gets a manicure and heads west on 42nd St. towards his parents home. His father died in his absence. He is greeted by his mother and sister Maisie.

Anna is making out with a man on her stoop. She sneaks in and he leaves. Her aunt, uncle and mother are asleep, she is high from a night of dancing.

Ellen and Jimmy, now married, are on a ship that is docking in New York. They have a baby with them, Martin. They are met by Frances and Bob Hildebrand. Prohibition is now in effect in the United States and Ellen is smuggling booze on her person. While Jimmy deals with the luggage the three go to a hotel.

George Baldwin is walking down Madison Avenue, trying to sort out his life. He stops at a florist to send flowers to Ellen and in the card declares himself “your lifelong slave and admirer.”

Sgt. major Joe O’Keefe and Pfc. Dutch Robertson are on board a ship coming into New York, trying to determine what to do with themselves now that the war is over.

The Merivales eating dinner, discussing Jimmy’s future. Ellen there as well. Jimmy may work at the Banker’s Trust.

Joe O’Keefe giving a speech at a committee meeting for veterans, calls for their bonus. Afterwards he sits with Sid Garnett, Bill Dougan, and Segal and suggests they start the “Brooklyn Bonus Agitation Committee.” When they go their separate ways Joe walks down to Atlantic Avenue to see Dr. Gordon, who informs him that Joe has tested positive for syphilis and that he will treat him.

George Baldwin, Gus McNiel, and Densch sitting at a table. They tried to talk George into running for public office.

A ferry boat full of deportees is leaving the harbor. The talk among the crowd is that the ship is full of communists and other undesirables being sent back to Russia.

II. Nickelodeon

Ruth Prynne leaving a doctors office. She gets into a taxi and heads to the Old English Tea Room on 40th St. There she runs into her old friend Billy Waldron and they talk about old times. She is taking x-ray treatments for her throat from a Dr. Warner. Billy tells her to be careful, that that is how some cancers start. The idea gets into her head and she finds it impossible to stop thinking about it.

Dutch Robertson sitting alone on a bench on the Brooklyn Bridge, scanning the want ads in the paper. He is joined by his girl, Francie. Neither of them have much money. They take a train to a restaurant. Have dinner but he’s not allowed to dance because of his poor clothes. Their walk along 14th, he tells her he’s been out of work for six months now. They go to a wharf to fool around but are kicked out by a night watchman. With nowhere to go, she sneaks him into her room. He promises to make good.

Ellen and Jimmy walking through the first snow of the season. They go to a French restaurant/speakeasy and find Congo Jake working there. He lost a leg in the war. Congo takes them for a drink in the kitchen where they find out that he is now a bootlegger. There is obvious tension between Ellen and Jimmy. Jimmy flashes back to the two of them happy in France. He is bitter that she now has to take a job and give up acting because he is out of work. They go back to their apartment, drunk.

Anna dancing in the long haul, she keeps changing partners.

III. Revolving Doors

Jake and Rosie, “a plump broadhipped woman with big black eyes and higharched eyebrows,” are planning to put something over on Nichols. They get tickets to the Follies, stop at a flower stand and head out.

James, Maisie, and Mrs. Merivale having breakfast. It is sleeting out. Jack, Masie’s boyfriend, is coming east in two weeks. James goes off to work at the bank.

Tony Hunter is dancing with a girl, Nevada Jones, in a hotel sitting room. Tony is seeing a psychoanalyst, Dr. Baumgardt, about his homosexual tendencies. Nevada encourages him to kiss her. George Baldwin calls up and Tony sneaks out. George and Gus McNeil show up. They order lunch and have drinks. George is on the wagon. He says he’s going to run for district attorney on a Reform ticket. Gus is upset, says that he had voters already lined up.

Anna Cohen is working at a lunch counter next to the subway, “Green Line Lunch.” The manager finds her primping in a mirror and fires her. She asks if she can stay to the end of the day. They get a rush.

Gus and Joe O’Keefe discuss Joe’s agitation committee. Joe asks Gus to line up his boys behind a mayoral candidate and Gus agrees.

Dutch Robertson walking along, thinking of Francie. He becomes envious of every man that he sees who has a job. Picks up a newspaper, reads about a $500,000 robbery and becomes livid.

Congo and Jimmy Herf walking along Sheepshead Bay. They enter a dark building where Jimmy meets Mike Cardinale, “a tall sallow shylooking man with bunchy black hair growing low on his forehead,” and his wife. It’s a pool hall and bar. Joined by a young girl, Anetta, and a young man, Johnny, they all eat a rich meal. Motorboats arrive and a fight ensues. Turns out to be hijackers. They break Congo’s wooden leg and are fought off. Only one case of champagne breaks. Jimmy leaves. Traveling home he plans an article on bootlegging and thinks of Ellie nostalgically. He goes to the home of Roy and Alice Sheffield. Bob and Frances Hildebrand are there as well. Jimmy tells them an embellished version of the story.

James Merivale at work. His mother calls, says something terrible has happened, and hangs up. James rushes home to find a woman there, Jessie Lincoln, who says that she is Jack Cunningham’s wife and has a marriage certificate to prove it. The marriage invites for Jack and Maisie have already gone out. James calls Jack’s office and is told that he’s out of town.

Phineas Blackhead and Densch, partners in an import export business, are discussing politics. Blackhead is against supporting the Reform candidate. Densch leaves. Blackhead leaves, meets his daughter Cynthia who is waiting in the limo, and they head to dinner. He says he’s going to stash securities in her safe deposit box.

Jimmy Herf working at a typewriter in his apartment, wishing for space, clean, and quiet. Gets in bed, has a nightmare but is able to get back to sleep. Next morning it’s snowing. Ellie brings him breakfast in bed and “winced under his kiss.” He is working nights now all the time and she suggests that he get another room somewhere else. He reluctantly agrees. She clears breakfasts and leaves him crying.

Anna out of work, talking with Elmer, who is going on and on about the plight of the worker, which she is not interested in. They stop and she gets a chocolate soda.

George Baldwin looking at himself in the mirror in his office. Notes that he has “a deep line at each corner of his mouth and across his chin. Under his bright gimleteyes the skin was sagging  and granulated.” He takes a strychnine pill. Nellie McNiel arrives, dressed richly. She presses him to side with Gus more. After she leaves he goes out. Takes a cab to Nevada’s apartment where he pushes his way in. Sees a pair of trousers and knows that a man is there, tells her that he knows all about Tony Hunter and is sick of it. Says he will send her a check for $500 and asks her to never communicate with him again. When he leaves he looks up Helena Oglethorpe Herf in the phone book. Back at Nevada’s apartment, her and Tony lament the loss of George’s money. They cook up a scheme to succeed on their own.

James Merivale getting fitted for suit. Jack Cunningham is there too, both wearing the same suit. They toss a coin to decide who gets it. Jack invites James to dinner, says he’ll explain things, James accepts.

Ruth Prynne and Ellen in a tea room. They catch up over dinner and head to a party at Hester Voorhees. They are met at the door by Cassandra Wilkins. It is a Greek themed party, with dance performances. Jojo finds Ellen and they catch up. She is now the editor of the journal Manners, under the name Helena. Detectives raid the party. Ellen calls up George Baldwin who puts district attorney Winthrop on the phone with the head detective. The detective withdraws his men and Ellen slips out. She calls George and tells him that she’s sick of that whole scene.

Jimmy Herf in City Hall Square. Dan asks if he’ll take the job and Jimmy says why not. Jimmy goes out into the snow and back to his new small room in Washington Square. After drinking rum he goes to see Ellen. She says that she doesn’t love him and in return he says they should get a divorce. She says “don’t be in a hurry,” and he leaves.

Anna at work sewing dresses. Another girl working beside her tells about how a girl was murdered a block away.

Rosie and Jake Silverman leave the theater, take a taxi to their hotel. Men from the Department of Justice are waiting there to arrest Jake for using the mails to defraud. They search his room, during which he tells Rosie to phone Schatz and tell him everything. The detectives take Jake away and he leaves a note saying “Hock everything and beat it; you are a good kid.”

IV. Skyscraper

Jimmy Herf, unemployed, walks out of the Pulitzer Building. It’s springtime. He walks the city having manic thoughts.

Francie and Dutch together. Dutch has a gun that he’s planning to use, Francie has found out that she’s pregnant.

Mrs. Cohen, “a bent old woman with a face brown and blotched like a russet apple,” is yelling at her daughter Anna, angry at her for picketing with garment workers. They fight and Anna runs to her room, both women sob. Anna leaves and meets up with Rose Segal and Lillian Diamond. They have a Coke and her friends tell her about how gunmen destroyed Ike Goldstein’s shop. Anna sees Elmer and she leaves her friends. Her and Elmer talk about the strike and the future.

Alice speaking with Jimmy Herf, asks him to help Roy get a job. They find Roy and Martin Schiff at an Italian restaurant. Jimmy is restless, lost. Martin, drunk, says that he is going to throw himself in the East River and runs out of the restaurant. Jimmy followed him but only long enough to pick up the clothes that he has already thrown off.

Francie meets Dutch, who is wearing new fancy clothes. He says he held up a guy in a cigar store.

Mr. Densch in his wife’s boudoir with a pile of telegrams. The one on top notes that there is a $500,000 deficit at the Hamburg branch. The maid comes in with a box that has just been delivered, it’s a new dress for his wife. Upset, he tells her to send it back. His wife, Serena, arrives home. He tells her that Blackhead & Densch are in a bad way, and that it could mean ruin. He tells her that they need to economize and she gets angry, calls the store in order to get the dress sent back.

Jimmy Herf walking along, lost. “His mind unreeling phrases, he walks on doggedly. There is nowhere in particular he wants to go. If only I still had faith in words.”

Brewster, a reporter, approaches Ike Goldstein, “a larvashaped man with a hooked nose a little crooked in a gray face,” in order to get the story of the robbery. After being reluctant Goldstein tells him what happened, then flashes a gun and says that he’s ready  when they come back.

Mr. Harpsicourt and Ellen having lunch at the Algonquin, tells her what he wants to see in his periodical, to “make every reader feel Johnny on the spot in the center of things.”

Jimmy Herf eating at Child’s, reads about Dutch Robinson’s arrest, along with his female partner who the paper dubs “The Flapper Bandit.” Jimmy goes outside and a ruckus occurs inside the restaurant, a man is ejected. The police arrived and arrest three Italians who are talking quietly on a corner.

V. The Burthen of Ninevah

Mr. Densch, “a ruined man,” onboard the Volendam. The ship pulls out of New York. His wife is crying. They’re on their way to Marienbad.

Martin in his crib, left with his nursemaid, Nounou.

Ellen in a taxi, exhausted. She meets George Baldwin in a hotel lobby and they go to the dining room. He informs her that he is going to get a divorce and asks if she will marry him. She replies, “I guess I can stand it if you can George.”

A drunk old man sitting on a stoop, face buried in his hands, passersby comment on him.

Alice Sheffield shopping at Lord and Taylor’s. She buys six pairs of gloves. At Maillard’s she runs into Buck, “a tall blonde Englishman with a coneshaped head and pointed wisps of towcolored mustaches under his long nose.” They talk about running off to Canada together, says she is sick of Roy. Buck buys train tickets but the next one is not until 7:10. They go their separate ways to meet up later and she begins to cry.

Joseph Cameron Parker and Antonio Camerone, a.k.a. “Joe and Skinny,” are trying to cook a piece of ham over an old umbrella frame on an open fire. A tramp keeps yelling at them about God and the state of the world. He offers chicken that he has wrapped up with him and they share a meal and tall Joe and Skinny have had enough of his ranting and run away.

Jimmy Herf walking along alone. A limo pulls up and Congo invites him in, offers to drop him off somewhere. He tells Jimmy that he will be going to jail for conspiracy soon. Married, his real name is Armand Duval. Ellen has served Jimmy with divorce papers. Jimmy and Armand go to his fancy place on Park Avenue. George Baldwin has just been appointed as District Attorney. On Jimmy’s way out he runs into Nevada Jones, who is now married to Armand.

James Merivale, now President of the Bank & Trust Company, sitting at the Metropolitan Club, smoking and reading the Wall Street Journal’s story on the failure of Blackhead & Densch. His mind wanders into a meandering stream of consciousness.

Rooney sitting with an unnamed man at a lunchwagon. The man tells them how he signed up to work on an “old scow,” and they talk about being overseas.

Anna and Dick in a room after sex. She is now a scab at Soubrine’s, says she had to take the job after her mother kicked her out. Dick is married.

Mrs. Cunningham reading the newspaper, sees her husband’s picture with his new wife. Says that they’re still married and that she still loves him.

Francie in a courtroom. The judge is going to make an example of her and Dutch, gives a long speech of condemnation. The crowd whispers about 20 years imprisonment.

Phineas P. Blackhead in bed, throws a glass pitcher at his Hindu servant. Falls asleep. Gladys Gaston, his daughter, arrives and he shoots up in bed, demanding whiskey. He is erratic and unnerved. Outside Gladys’s husband is fending off reporters. The servant gives Phineas a drink and he spasms and dies. The servant spits on his face.

Ellen goes to Madame Soubrine’s shop. She is “a stout blackhaired perhaps Russian woman.” Ellen’s dress is ready and that they have a fitting. Ellen is giving up her job. In the back room Anna Cohen is sewing. Her mind wanders, thinking about marrying Elmer Duskin and their possible future together. The tulle she is working with catches on fire and a small blaze starts. Madame Soubrine puts it out herself. Ellen leaves as the fire engines arrive. Is told that Anna will live but will be permanently disfigured. Ellen goes to the Algonquin. She is highly disturbed, considering what could’ve been in her life.

Jimmy Herf at the home of Bob Hildebrand, who tells him a story about a man who was killed for wearing a straw hat out of season. Bob goes to bed and Jimmy heads back to the party that’s going on in the other room. He drinks, dances and leaves. Goes to the ferry, is the only one on it until a flower wagon drives onto it. When it docks he hurries off, walking until sunrise. Spends his last quarter on breakfast, leaving him with three cents. Hitches a ride on a furniture truck. When asked how far he is going Jimmy replies, “I dunno…. Pretty far.”

END

See also

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