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.
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