Theodore Dreiser is one of the primary practitioners of American naturalism, a school of writing that, like its counterpart in France, seeks to convey realistically and almost clinically the effects of social conditions on individual lives. All of Dreiser’s characteristics are most clearly reflected in An American Tragedy, the masterpiece of an author who had earlier published three important novels: Sister Carrie (1900), Jennie Gerhardt (1911), and The Financier (1912, 1927). In this book, Dreiser the naturalist asserts the doctrine that the individual is struggling endlessly to survive in an uncaring world. The individual is also a victim of heredity, environment, and chance, all of which leave one with little room for free choice. Dreiser’s theory of life is largely mechanistic, and for An American Tragedy, he invented the term “chemism” to explain the chemical forces that he believed propel people to act the way they do. Humanity, according to Dreiser, is a “mechanism, undevised and uncreated and a badly and carelessly driven one at that.” Such a poor creature is Clyde Griffiths, the central character of An American Tragedy. The book, which is full of scientific imagery, shows readers how Clyde is driven to his final destruction.
Dreiser chooses to concentrate an individual’s struggle against one particular force: society and its institutions. In each of the novel’s three sections, Clyde strives not against a malign God or a malevolent fate but against the unyielding structure of his culture. In other times, people have defined themselves by other touchstones (religion, honor, war), but Clyde can answer his craving for meaning in only one way. To matter in America means, in the book’s terms, to be masterful, to have material goods and status. Clyde’s America tempts him with its powerful businesses, its glittering social affairs, and its promises that anyone who is deserving can share in its riches. That is a false promise; the American tragedy is the gap between the country’s ideals and its reality.
Doomed to failure in his quest, Clyde, whose story has been called a parable of the American experience, cannot be blamed for desiring what he sees all about him. He cannot be blamed for the weaknesses and handicaps that ensure his end. Immature and shallow, offering a “gee” on all occasions, uneducated and poor, Clyde is...
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An American Tragedy Essay
527 Words3 Pages
There are many aspects of Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy that involve the moral decision versus the immoral decision and God. The main theme that Dreiser maintains throughout the novel is Immorality. Each character in the novel possesses one or more characteristics that show that he or she is partially immoral. When combined, all these elements have a strong message, that there is consequence to straying from God's path.Clyde Griffiths is the perfect example of how a person is led from God's light. At the beginning of the novel, his character is the son of poor missionary parents.
The family spends its' time on street corners, singing church hymns, and reading verses from the Bible. Soon, however, we begin to see the growth of…show more content…
She is hopelessly in love with Clyde; Clyde is hopelessly in love with his family name and his new circle of friends.Clyde's oversight of this problem leads to his ultimate downfall. He tries to make Roberta abort the child, and it cannot be done, so Clyde begins thinking of others ways to solve this "problem" he has created.
If Clyde had stayed with his parents, and lived a life devoted to God, he would have not succumbed to corruption. He actually murders Roberta because he gives into lust and his desire for Sondra Finchley, who represents the evil that Clyde is so enamoured by. Clyde meets his death, by execution, as a result of his lies and bad choices.Theodore Dreiser is trying to make the audience realize that morals are more important than the materialistic and unimportant things that people throw their lives into. Every character is An American Tragedy has a problem of some sort. Clyde wants social status, and will stop at nothing to get it. He is the main character of the novel, and therefore the main theme, Immorality, is centered on his life and his actions.
Dreiser wants to show his audience that people make the wrong decisions all the time, without realizing the consequences until it is too late. The entire book, the audience is led to believe that Clyde will manipulate his way to the top. Then, all of a sudden, it is too late, and his life is shattered.