An American Tragedy

An American Tragedy

Book - 1948
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This Library of America volume contains the novel that is the culmination of Theodore Dreiser's elementally powerful fictional art. A tremendous bestseller when it was first published in 1925, An American Tragedy takes as point of departure a notorious murder case of 1906--one among many that Dreiser studied in preparation. He immersed himself in the social background of the crime to produce a book that is a remarkable work of reportage, a monumental study of character, and a stunning jeremiad against the delusions and inequities of American society.

Few novels have undertaken to track so relentlessly the process by which an ordinary young man becomes capable of committing a ruthless murder and the further process by which social and political forces come into play after his arrest. In Clyde Griffiths, the impoverished, restless offspring of a family of street preachers, Dreiser created an unforgettable portrait of a man whose social insecurities and naive dreams of self-betterment conspire to pull him toward act of unforgivable violence. The murder that he commits on a quiet lake in the Adirondacks is an extended scene of overwhelming impact, and it is followed by equally gripping episodes of his arrest and trial. Throughout, Dreiser elevates the most mundane aspects of what he observes into emotionally charged, often harrowing symbols.

Around Clyde, Dreiser builds an extraordinarily detailed portrait of early twentieth-century America, its religious and sexual hypocrisies, its economic pressures, its political corruption and journalistic exploitation. The sheer prophetic amplitude of his bitter truth-telling, in idiosyncratic prose of uncanny expressiveness, continues to mark Dreiser as a crucially important American writer. An American Tragedy , the great achievement of his later years, is a work of mythic force, at once brutal and heartbreaking.

LIBRARY OF AMERICA is an independent nonprofit cultural organization founded in 1979 to preserve our nation's literary heritage by publishing, and keeping permanently in print, America's best and most significant writing. The Library of America series includes more than 300 volumes to date, authoritative editions that average 1,000 pages in length, feature cloth covers, sewn bindings, and ribbon markers, and are printed on premium acid-free paper that will last for centuries.
Publisher: c1948.
ISBN: 9781931082310
Branch Call Number: FICTION DRE


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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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