An American Tragedy
Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy (1925) is nothing less than what it purports to be--the harrowing story of a weak-willed young man who destroys himself, a villain who is also victim of the values of a deceptive, materialistic society. Dreiser patterned the story of Clyde Griffiths on a real-life murder that took place in 1906, a charming young social climber who killed his pregnant young girlfriend in order to romance a rich girl who had begun to notice him. A powerful murder story, An American Tragedy is much more than that. For Dreiser pours his own dark yearnings into the character of Clyde Griffiths, while grimly charting the young man's pitiful rise and fall as he pursues empty ambitions to wealth, power and satisfaction. The Indiana-born novelist Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945) has never been a dashing or romantic figure in American literature, and he has no Pulitzer or Nobel Prize to signal his importance. His big, rugged novels were shocking in their day--unapologetic in their sexual candor, antagonistic to the norms of conventional morality and organized religion, often banned or suppressed--and challenging still to readers. Yet the brooding force of his writing casts a deep shadow across modern American letters. At his best, in An American Tragedy, Dreiser examines the flip side of The American Dream in a gathering storm of a story that develops with a power echoing Dostoevsky in Crime and Punishment. Inspired by the novels of Balzac and the ideas of Spenser and Freud, Dreiser became one of America's greatest naturalist writers, and An American Tragedy retains its rocky intensity and its devastating view of American longing almost a century later.