An American Tragedy

An American Tragedy

Book - 2000
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Publisher: New York : Signet Classic, 2000.
ISBN: 9780451527707
Branch Call Number: FIC DREISER
Characteristics: xv, 859 p. ; 18 cm.


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Feb 10, 2019

"Roberta stood in extreme terror. The stigmata of unsanctioned concupiscence! The shame of illegitimacy for a child!"
Indiana-born novelist Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945) is one of the many American writers of the realist/naturalist school (I can never keep them straight.) whose reputation has been largely eclipsed; other casualties are Frank Norris, Stephen Crane, Sinclair Lewis, and William Dean Howells. While he's firmly part of the American canon, you won't find a lot of people reading him. 1925's "An American Tragedy" is, along with "Sister Carrie," his major work. Inspired by an actual murder, it's the story of Clyde, a young man from a poor background who, thanks to a relative, becomes part of the smart set in upstate New York, but then knocks up his girlfriend, Roberta. They both become desperate and he drowns her. Dreiser's style is heavy, clumsy, and blunt. It work for the material, but is unpleasant to read and somewhat akin to a headache that you just have to grit your teeth and get through. It was adapted (in a much abridged version) as "A Place in the Sun" with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Cliff.

May 05, 2013

Despite its length, this novel captures the attention from beginning to end. The impetuous, sometimes melodramatic, style keeps the reader turning the pages: good time entertainment to be sure! This book, however, is much more. While it could have easily been a soap opera by modern standards, Dreiser's messages on social struggles and discrepancies, religion and the justice system makes this novel a powerful critique which gives it its timelessness. I found that the entire trial was extremely modern in content and form, and I was actually surprised to see such an overt and compelling argument against the death penalty (maybe it's just my reading). This is definitely an example of pathos well rendered, an attempt at showing the emotions behind the bars as opposed to the judgement and righteousness of institutions.
Overall, I found that this book is still relevant both as a literary enjoyment and as a piece of social criticism for issues that are still on-going today.

Jul 04, 2011

Clyde Griffiths, protagonist of this classic novel, is a weak, incompetent, amoral young man who pursues the American dream with disastrous results. He reaches for social status and wealth, but all crashes about him after he drowns his lover and their unborn child. Caught, convicted, and sentenced to death by the electric chair, his life is a tragedy. Dreiser explores the process in a very long book that has a plehtora of tedious detail and exposition. Read it once, maybe, but not twice.

diesellibrarian Nov 29, 2010

A classic of American Naturalism. Made into a worthy film version starring Elizabeth Taylor - I believe the film was called "A Place in the Sun." A difficult but rewarding read.

Aug 06, 2010

Standing Ovation!!

If Dreiser's message in An American Tragedy can be summed up in a sentence, it is: the American Dream is an illusion. In America, it is said, a person's circumstances at birth place no limit on his or her potential; people can make of themselves whatever they choose and rise as high as they are willing to climb. According to Dreiser the destiny of a human being results from hereditary, environmental, economic, social, and fatalistic forces that act upon him. Clyde Griffiths attempts to break free of these forces but fails.


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FavouriteFiction Sep 30, 2009

Clyde Griffiths, an unsophisticated son of a preacher, goes out into the world looking for success.


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