Book #16-An American Tragedy by Theodore Dresier

What a phenomenal book.  Dresier managed to truly capture the adolescent pathos and yearnings with marvelous dialog and flawless descriptives throughout.

Based on actual events that occurred in 1906, Dreiser sketches out the life of the fictional Clyde Griffiths (based on the real-life Chester Gillette) from his early boyhood days as the son of street preachers, his exposure and awe of the upper class, his sexual encounters and eventually to his spiraling downfall when torn between the haves and the have nots.

Clyde is so infatuated with the elite society he finds himself in, that he loses both his common and his moral senses.  At times, he is so obviously self concerned, one is left wanting to grab him by his young, inexperienced shoulders and shake him rather vigorously.  Dreisler did such an outstanding job with his character that I was often wondering if he related a little too much with him, however, I’ll defer to his masterful writing instead.

Mrs. Griffiths, Clyde’s mother, is the strength and foundation of the family and proves to be her son’s strongest supporter throughout and into his darkest hours.

Dreisler had true ability in portraying the emotions and inner thoughts of the rich and poor; male and female, and did so quite well with the multitude of characters in An American Tragedy.  Several dichotomous characterizations were found and included Clyde Griffiths and his cousin Gilbert Griffiths, Esta Griffiths and Roberta Alden, Asa Griffiths and Samuel Griffiths and more.

Dinner with Dreiser would be quite interesting, were it possible.  I’d surely enjoy discussing assorted topics with him; religion, capital punishment, the rich and the poor, sexual repression, etc.


And Clyde felt for the moment as though he could cry too.  For life was so strange, so hard at times.  See how it had treated him all these years.  He had had nothing until recently and always wanted to run away.  But Esta had done so, and see what had befallen her.  And somehow he recalled her between the tall walls of the big buildings here in the business district, sitting at his father’s little street organ and singing and looking so innocent and good.  Gee, life was tough.  What a rough world it was anyhow.  How queer things went!

Titus was a farmer solely because his father had been a farmer.  And he was here on this farm because it had been willed to him and because it was easier to stay here and try to work this than it was to go elsewhere.  He was a Republican because his father before him was a Republican and because this county was Republican.  It never occurred to him to be otherwise…

As he thought, and for the time, sitting in the lamplight of his own room between nine-thirty and ten at night, a strange and disturbing creepiness as to the flesh and hair and finger-tips assailed him.  The wonder and the horror of such a thought!

Under the merciful direction of a living God, was it not evil in a mother to believe evil of a child, however, dread his erring ways might seem?

Quite a lengthy book at 934 pages, however, apart from extending my usual book per week, I was not at all tempted to skip over even one sentence!  If my eyes were not quite so puffy and bloodshot, I’d be reading up on the trial of  Chester Gillette.

My rating for An American Tragedy is a 9 out of 10.

To see the entire list,  visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.

Please share your own reviews or  comments by using the link below.

Next up, Carson McCullers’  The Heart is a Lonely Hunter



Filed under An American Tragedy

6 responses to “Book #16-An American Tragedy by Theodore Dresier

  1. Jillian

    Now I’m really looking forward to this one!

    Great review. 🙂

    • vsudia

      I don’t like to give too much away in my reviews so left out much I would have liked included.

      This was a really good book, but so, so long! Brace yourself, or rather your eyes for this one!

      Thanks so much for visiting!

  2. What a great novel. I just finished it in August and while the page number was really high, I felt it was still a wonderful and engaging novel. The third part in particular read quickly.

    I found you through Jillian, who recommended your blog to me. 🙂 I love blogs with a focus on the classics!

    • vsudia

      Thanks for visiting!

      I wondered how you came up with your list, so visited your blog and got my answer along with your current state of unemployment. Perhaps you would not otherwise have the time to read the classics if you were currently in the rat race so enjoy and have faith that the current state of the US economy will improve.

  3. I just finished the book, but I’m sorry to say I didn’t enjoy it as much as you did. Dreiser’s imagery was often poetic, but at times his descriptions of Clyde’s thoughts just seemed (to me) to drag on and on, so toward the end of the book I found myself skimming over paragraphs. It was a well crafted story, I just wish an editor had insisted on removing 100 pages.
    One reason An American Tragedy ends up on top 100 lists is the naturalistic style, depicting man’s stuggle against external forces, and the fact that it was published in 1925, at a time when this was pregnancy out of wedlock was an uncomfortable topic for polite society. A book like this really pushed some boundaries back then.
    Glad you liked it, good luck with your challenge!

    • vsudia

      Sorry you didn’t enjoy Dreiser as I did. Not sure if Sister Carrie is on your list, but if so, brace yourself as its another lengthy one by Theodore Dreiser. I’m certainly not one to tolerate the overly verbose, but I just find Dreiser’s writing very mesmerizing.

      Best of luck with your combined list and hopefully you’ll find some treasures among them!

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