Saxon's Reviews > An American Tragedy

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
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's review
May 15, 2009

liked it
bookshelves: school
Recommended to Saxon by: some old, liberal lesbian.
Recommended for: people who like classic, pre-WW 2 American Lit.
Read in April, 2009

Undoubtedly, this is a great story. Dreiser methodically, and often painstakenly, examines the condition of America through the life of the young and impressionable Clyde Griffiths. As we follow Clyde from his humble upbringing as the son of street preachers in Kansas City to Chicago to upstate New York in pursuit of altering his lot in life, Dreiser seemingly leaves no aspect of society untouched by his prodding, examination and questioning of its legitimacy, foundations and effect on us as humans. Then after spending over 600 pages, he takes the liberty of utilizing another 200 pages deconstructing everything we have read in the form of a murder trial. Balls! By the end of the novel, not much as been left out. He's got it all -- religion, wealth, class, abortion, sex, murder, law, politics, on and on. It is, in many ways, the embodiment of the "great, American novel"--if such a thing can even be characterized.

Unfortunately, Dreiser's prose is not compelling, whatsoever. This makes for large chunks of the book being extremely melodramatic, long-winded or just plain boring. His style could be a product of the time period in which he was writing. However, in comparison to some of his contemporaries (Thomas Wolfe, Fitzgerald--"The Great Gatsby" came out the same year, etc), Dreiser's dull style and infatuation with large, ambiguous words ("sycophantic" is used at least 35 times) lacks many of his contemporaries potency of language, subtlety or use of basic devices to get the reader invested or (at least interested) in the events of the story. Instead, he slowly, and almost offensively, takes you by the hand, making sure that even someone with the intelligence of a fourth grader could get his points.

That being said, Dreiser is able shore up these shortcomings with the plot he has laid out which keeps your attention for no other reason that it is such a vast undertaking he has undergone in writing this story that you begin to feel it your duty to at least finish it. Which is a good choice because the trial section the other 2/3 of the novel worth it--for the most part. And admittedly, I still would suggest this book for those who are fans of American literature. I commend Dreiser for championing the working class and although he is careful not to fully reveal his own stance on various issues, this book is actually quite progressive in many ways (not to many writers were examining the difficulties of obtaining forms of birth control during this time--something Dreiser dedicates a large section of the book on). This allows An American Tragedy to still hold up as more than a mere glance into a time period that no longer exist but rather as a contribution to a discourse that is still very much going on.
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04/04/2009 page 155
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Comments <span class="smallText"> (showing 1-2 of 2) </span> <span class="smallText">(2 new)</span>

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Saxon Steve wrote: "I like American Lit (new and old), but I'm not sure I'll take the plunge. (I was wondering what your take would be, since I thought it might be some sort of literary death march.) Years and years a..."

Its actually a pretty easy read. Just...long-winded.

Aaaand...yes the movie is great. Montgomery Clift is a sex god.

message 2: by Mor (new) - rated it 2 stars

Mor I couldn't agree more with you comment on Dreiser's pose; it was very long-winded. I liked the story in a nutshell, but the depth that Dresier went into was painful.

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