They don't want to fight people; they want to do business with them" (Dos Passos 21). However, he soon learns about America, specifically what it means to be poor in America. He tells Emile and Marco, "It's the same all over the world, the police beating us up, rich people cheating us out of their starvation wages, and who's fault?" (Dos Passos 37). Out of all the book's characters, it seems as if Congo has the least drive and ambition, and yet he is one of few that gain the most in the novel, strictly by his own hard work and determination.
He seems to become more embittered about being poor as the book progresses, in fact, he says he wants to be an American citizen but will refuse to fight in the war because it is just a way to stop revolution of the working man around the world (Dos Passos 227). However, Congo does come to understand capitalism in America. He becomes a very successful bootlegger during Prohibition, a millionaire in fact. He succeeds while so many others in the novel fail, and this is part of his education about America. Coming from a foreign country, he has the ability to look at America with unclouded eyes, and he can see what works for people and what does not. He truly becomes reborn in America, taking on the name Armand Duval, and that is because of his success. Jimmy sums up Congo's success when he says, "The difference between you and me is that you're going up the social scale, Armand, and I'm going down'" (Dos Passos 383). This is true, and it is a theme of the novel, as well. Congo's success has made him a great man, who has not forgotten his roots or his friends. That cannot be said for all the characters in this dark novel, so Congo, one of the least promising characters early on, has learned his lessons about America very well, and has put them to very good use.
5. One character says, "I ain't a Jew no more. This isn't Russia." How does this statement illustrate the speaker's idea of America?
The speaker's idea of America is another underlying theme of this novel. Often, there is racism expressed by white people that sounds remarkably similar to statements made today about immigrants. Dos Passos writes, "City's overrun with kikes and low Irish, that's what's the matter with it... In ten years a Christian won't be able to make a living... I tell you the Catholics and the Jews are going to run us out of our own country, that's what they are going to do" (Dos Passos 101). The speaker is saying that his idea of America is what many immigrants think when they come to this country - they are no longer a race, religion, or nationality, they are simply part of the melting pot that is America. However, as the racist overtones of the novel indicate, this is not the case at all. There is prejudice in America, and Dos Passos refers to it again and again throughout the novel, from persecution of Irish, and just about any immigrant in town, to a character's statement early in the novel. She says, "I couldn't tell him we lived in the Bronx, could I? He'd have thought we were Jews and wouldn't have rented us the apartment'" (Dos Passos 42). There is tension between the races, which indicates that there is misunderstanding and distrust between them, as well.
While the character believes he is no longer Jewish when he comes to America, it reality, he may find he becomes more Jewish as he negotiates the streets and businesses of New York, because he will certainly face persecution and racism. Immigrants like this person came to this country hoping for new opportunities, and many, like Congo, found them and capitalized on them. However, many more faced the uncertain futures of many of the characters of the novel - even Jimmy. They came here with dreams and ambition, and are beaten down by racism and poverty. Emile, the cabinboy who convinces Congo to come to America is a perfect example. He is the one with ambition, and yet, he ends up serving Congo as his "cook," a twist that is not entirely unexpected in this unique…