Rachael Szydlowski's Reviews > An American Tragedy

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
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's review
Dec 16, 2010

really liked it
Read in November, 2010

The first book I picked off my list was Theodore Dresier’s An American Tragedy. For the most part, I plan to read the book in alphabetical order, but this book I ended up buying for my Kindle, so I started reading it right away. I think technically the book is actually 3 books, at least that’s how it is divided on my Kindle. According to the Amazon description it’s over 800 pages in length, so I began with a big book.

Written in the mid-1920′s the book highlights the life of Clyde Griffiths, the son of a poor street corner preacher. From the first pages, Clyde is desiring something greater than singing gospels on the street corner with his family. He wants a real job, nice clothes, and for people to look at him with respect as opposed to with awe or disgust. He soon finds himself with a job as an assistant at a soda fountain, though this job does not satisfy Clyde’s desires for success. This leads to his finding work as a bellhop at a grand hotel in Kansas City (where his family lives). He enjoys the work and is amazed at how much money he takes away in tips. He makes friends, buys fancy clothes, and falls for a girl. However, in the midst of his good times, disaster strikes, causing Clyde and his friends to dissipate across the country.

In the second book, Clyde finds himself in Chicago, first working as a delivery boy and then again as a bellhop. By chance, Clyde meets his rich uncle, a guest at the hotel where Clyde works, and is offered a position in his uncle’s company. At once, Clyde relocates to Lycur, New York. At first, things are not pleasing for Clyde, he is working a low-level position and is all but ignored by his prosperous family. However, as time goes on, he moves up to a management position and begins to be recognized by his family as well as the important youth of society. However, at the same time, Clyde has embarked on a secret romance with a girl working in his department. Clyde finds himself at an impasse, and does something drastic. The third book begins with the police seeking Clyde, his imprisonment, and the proceeding court case.

Overall, I found myself enjoying this book immensely, though it took some time before it drew me in. Particularly worth noting was the language used by the author; I am not sure if this is of the time the text was written or if the author was unique in his style. The last chapters of the third book were the most haunting, and, in my opinion, the best part of the book. Dreiser exposes the raw emotion and thought process of Clyde, whereas previous to this the reader experiences Clyde at arm’s length. As the reader, i could feel the change in style. I found my heart beating faster, my eyes more focused, and my entire being more in-tuned with the text. And it wasn’t because the latter chapters were action packed or suspenseful, it was simply the raw emotion. In addition, Dreiser chose to end the book in a similar fashion as he began the text, which was quite effective, almost as though the beginning and ending text served as bookends, bringing together the rather large “book” (or 3 books).

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