Theodore Dreiser was an old man when he joined the
communist Party of America. It was in July 1945. His whole life
had been a preparation for that step and a hard life it had
been, too !
He was born in the family of a strict Catholic, narrow
— minded and despotic. It was because of his farther that he
hated religion to the end of his days. His parents were not
rich. When 16 years of age, he left home to earn his living
in Chicago, which at that time was growing into a big city.
All seemed wonderful to the young lad. He managed to get a job,
but it paid only five dollars a week, besides it was not
what he wanted. He was eager to study. At last he was
admitted to the University. Yet a year later he left it
because of financial difficulties. It was in those days that he
to write for newspapers. But it was not so easy to become a
newsman. He had to call at the offices many times before he got
some work .
In 1900 his first novel “ Sister Carrie ” appeared and
was immediately withdrawn from print by the publisher. The author
was severly attacked by critics. The novel was pronounced
Dreiser could not long get over the failure of his
first literary attempt. Only after a lapse of nearly 10 years
in 1911 he published his “ Jennie Gerhardt ” , also the life
story of girl. This book likewise received a hostile reception
due to alleged immorality. Dreiser was boycotted by publishers.
Three of his works , ” The Financier “ (1912), “ The Titan ”
(1914) and “ The Stoic ” ( which was published only after the
wri ters death in 1947 ), give the whole life story of an
capitalist, showing the ways in which the wealth of big
capitalists is made. “ The Genius ” (1915) tells of the fate
of an artist in the bourgeois world.
He described his visit to the USSR in “ Dreiser Looks at
Russia ” (1928) .
Besides the works mentioned above, Dreiser also published
several collections of short stories.
Dreiser literary work occupies an important place in
American critical realism. His novels and short stories give a
true picture of American society and its influence upon the
life of the people.
“ The Financier ”, “ The Titan ” , and “ The Stoic ”
compose “ The Trilogy of Desire ” . Its purpose was to show
the ways and practices of American big business at the turn of
the 20-th century .
Frank Cowperwood — a chief character of all the three
novels is a representative of a big business. “ The Financier ”
gives a broad panorama of American social life. Cowperwood
begins his career by titling against the ruling clique in
Philadelphia. He suffers a defeat and is thrust into jail.
Having served his term he continues his struggle and using a
chance becomes a millionaire again, goes to Chicago and looks
for a greater field of financial activity. There is no problem
of moral or conscience for him when there is a chance to get
“ The Titan ” portrays Cowperwood as a businessman with a
perfect knowledge of all ins and outs of financial world. He
artfully bribes all high officials and becomes owner of the
Chicago tramway. Cowperwood rolls in wealth but his appetites
Cowperwood s life story is brought to an end in the third
part of the trilogy — “ The Stoic ” . The novel remained
unfinished. The action is laid in London where Cowperwood
is engaged in the construction of a subway. Here he is
different: in the previous
two novels the writer sympathized with his hero, portraying
him as a man of wide — ranging enterprise. In the “ Stoic ”,
Cowperwood is a typical shark of capitalism. He is an
unprincipled in business dealings as he is immoral in love
affaires. In the last years of his life the bitter truth
grows upon him that the chase for money and big business to
which he has devoted all his life are empty things. His
disillusion in life soon brings him to death.
“ An American Tragedy ” is Dreiser”s masterpiece. It marks a
new step in Dreiser”s work.
The novel speaks of the fate of a common American,
Clyde Griffiths. His parent”s are failures in life and make
their living in the streets of Kansas City, singing psalms.
Clyde is tormented by the poverty and his fantasy is set
astir by the luxury. Sincerely believing that wealth alone makes
people happy he determines to pave his way to fortune. He
detests hard work, prefers to make money in an easy manner and
begins his life as a bellboy in a luxurious hotel. His way of
life and of making money lead him to a crime. Clyde is
arrested and put to death on the electric chair.
Clyde Griffiths” fate is characteristic of the world in
which he was brought up. Spiritually backward, with no ideals
but a longing to get success in the world that surrounds him
for he sees that by honest labour he would never become rich
enough to enter the world of pleasure and luxury. He sees that
when a man becomes rich nobody dares to find out the source
of his riches.
He sincerely hopes that his marriage to Sondra would solve all
his problems and cover up his past. The ammoralizing effect of
the environment leads Clyde to a tragedy, which is not his
personal tragedy, but the one of an average American. Due to
the great artistic power with which Dreiser presented this
typical case, “An American Tragedy ” is in full justice regarded
as one of the best books in American literature.