'An American Tragedy' is Published

Clyde Griffiths is a young man with ambitions.

He's in love with a rich girl, but it's a poor girl he has gotten pregnant, Roberta Alden, who works with him at his uncle's factory. One day he takes Roberta canoeing on a lake with the intention of killing her. From there his fate is sealed. But by then Dreiser has made plain that Clyde's fate was long before sealed by a brutal and cynical society. The usual criticism of Dreiser is that, line for line, he's the weakest of the great American novelists. And it's true that he takes a pipe fitter's approach to writing, joining workmanlike sentences one to the other. But by the end he will have built them into a powerful network, and something vital will be flowing through them.

In “An American Tragedy,” lower-middle-class men and women, armed with nothing but prohibitions, are thrown into the harsh world of industrial capitalism, which itself molds and enforces behavior with dour insistence. At the factory, the girls are so strictly supervised that they fear losing their jobs if they go dancing or drop into a movie theatre; the factory is a kind of nunnery without ardor or sacredness, a near-prison that bottles up sexuality and forbids routine pleasures.