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Thursday, April 05, 2012

An American Tragedy

Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy seems to be one of those early 20th century left-wing American classics that few people read anymore - as Irving Howe puts it in the afterword: "Do I exaggerate in saying that Theodore Dreiser has dropped out of the awareness of cultivated Americans?" Even writing this in 1964 - the original book having been published in 1925 - Howe most likely was right, yet the more important question probably is are those cultivated Americans right in having forgotten - or never heard of - him? Here the answer is far less certain.

I thought that An American Tragedy was too lengthy, too repetitive at times, of its 800 pages maybe a quarter could have been cut as they seemingly served only to repeat a point - a sentiment - that had been made abundantly clear previously. Still Dreiser provides an interesting point of view for early 20th century capitalist America, its social norms, religious predominance and hypocrisy, the moneyed social class structures. He tries to portray something that is very real then - and to the human sentiments of which I and everybody else could clearly relate to. 

As Dreiser put it himself: "A certain type of crime in the United States [...] proved very common. It seemed to spring from the fact that almost every young person was possessed of an ingrown ambition to be somebody financially and socially."

As cruel as it may sound I found Dreiser's novel much more interesting as an reflection of its time than as a literary work.

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