an american tragedy essay

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An american tragedy essay


For this story, Dreiser scrutinized the official court records and the many newspaper reports of the Gillette-Brown case, explored Herkimer County, and inspected Sing Sing, gathering thousands of impressions and details. The chief tenet of such literary naturalists as Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Jack London, and Theodore Dreiser is that man is a helpless pawn of his heredity and his environment, a creature caught in the web of causation and chance.

Although Clyde has seemingly successful moments, his life is basically one of suffering. Because of his deficient thought and weak will, Clyde is the protagonist-victim not of a "tragic" but of a "pathetic" plot, and in keeping with the naturalistic-pathetic plot, human frailty and futility pervade An American Tragedy. Both the "pathetic" individual and the "tragic" civilization loom large in this novel. Clyde's class snobbery is an outgrowth of individualism and urbanization.

And we see in Clyde the decline of belief, the growth of the secular ethic, and the fragmentation of his personality. Although its classic one hundred chapters are divided into three disproportionate books of nineteen, forty-seven, and thirty-four chapters, the ponderous whole is tensely unified.

Dreiser's fictional cosmos of indifference toward puny, struggling man reveals the contrast between the weak, the poor, and the ugly and between the relatively strong, rich, and beautiful. Again, he contrasts the photographic world-as-it-is with the visionary world-as-it-might-be. Because of Dreiser's bold contrasts, systematic ambiguity, and uneasy mixture of scientific notions and compassionate feelings, critics often argue whether or not Dreiser was a "naturalist," a "realist," or an old-fashioned "romantic.

Aesthetically, his vast network of dramatic contrast makes for fascinating ironies, foreshadowings, and parallels, all of which contribute to the book's unity. From time to time the reader will note in Dreiser's prose certain crudities and repetitions.

Our literary sensibilities might even be offended when, for example, we see Clyde Griffiths "beat a hasty retreat. To be sure, most of Dreiser's sentences do not conform to the ideal set forth in, say, Strunk and White's Elements of Style. He does not go to school and does not encounter corrupting temptations like alcohol and sex.

Because Clyde has no contact with lures, he can not know how to resist it. When Clyde and his friends go on their sin-filled blow-outs, Clyde gives in to temptation. Even though he has reservations about drinking wine and sleeping with prostitutes, his upbringing has not prepared him to resist them.

His upbringing also leaves distaste for church and religion in Clyde. This distaste stems from when his evangelical parents would drag Clyde on their street-preaching trips. Clyde resents it. This youthful rebellion influence his entire life, as religion never plays a major part in it again until he is near his execution. His upbringing, however, does instill a sense of morality and religion that follows Clyde throughout life, even if he does not follow it.

Finally, Christian values resurface while Clyde is on death row. Thus, although tries to ignore Christian values, he does not escape them.

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At the time of his execution, he has no more understanding of the forces, inner and outer, that drove his life than when he worked at the Green-Davidson Hotel in Kansas City. However, it might be argued that there is something heroic and tragic in his doomed attempt to make something of his life. The tragedy lies in the fact that that the battle he fights is such an uneven one. It is as if he is facing an entire army equipped with only a slingshot. What does the trial of Clyde Griffiths reveal about the justice system?

The trial of Clyde Griffiths presents a not very pretty picture of the way the justice system works. Even if the reader feels that Clyde was justly convicted and executed, it is hard to ignore the glaring faults on all sides of the system. To begin with, the prosecuting attorney, Orville Mason, wants to win a conviction solely to boost his sagging political fortunes. He emerges from the trial as a hero and gets what he really wants—election to a judgeship.

For him, the trial is more of a political campaign than a legal proceeding. Although Mason does nothing illegal in his handling of the case, that is not true of his assistant, Burton Burleigh, who plants incriminating evidence against Clyde. But the subterfuge is never challenged in the courtroom; had the deception been revealed it would have resulted in a mistrial or an acquittal.

The attorneys for example discuss how to retrieve the suit Clyde threw away in the wood and have it cleaned and presented as if it had been Clyde who had sent it away for cleaning. Three, ch. XV, p. Given this chicanery on the part of the lawyers on both sides, does Clyde get a fair trial?

It seems that he does not get an impartial jury. But then the other jurors gang up on him, telling him they will expose him to the public anger sure to result if there is a hung jury. All in all, the trial not only reveals flaws in the justice system but presents a less than edifying view of human nature. Why does the novel end in the way it does? In fact, the first two paragraphs and much of the third paragraph in the final scene are almost identical, apart from the change of city, to the exact words with which Dreiser opens the novel.

Many other sentences are repeated verbatim from the earlier scene. It is a summer evening and a group of five people six in the opening chapter are out on the street, about to set up a religious service to attract the interest of passers-by. As used to happen to Clyde, Russell is taken along by his parents the street preachers, whether he wants to go or not. As in the first chapter, two passers-by comment that it is no life for a kid. It is as if life simply repeats itself. No one learns anything.

It suggests a very pessimistic conclusion to the novel. Russell will be raised in the same environment of poverty and deprivation that stacked the odds against Clyde. The final sentence offers little hope for families such as the Griffiths. They are virtually invisible. While it is true that Mrs. Griffiths does seem concerned that she should be more liberal with Russell than she had been with Clyde, the reader will sense that in the eyes of the author Theodore Dreiser, young Russell may need more than his impoverished mother can provide for him.

In what respect is the novel a documentary, using material drawn from real-life events? In a sense the entire novel has a documentary quality to it, since Dreiser wanted to show that in American society, people who come from the same socio-economic background as Clyde Griffiths did not have much of a chance in life. However, Dreiser was a journalist, trained in the reporting of facts, and he did not invent the story of Clyde solely out of his imagination.

Wanting to base his novel in real-life, he studied sixteen recent murder cases before deciding to base An American Tragedy on the real-life case of Chester Gillette, which Dreiser researched in great detail. Like Clyde, Gillette was the son of highly religious parents but he did not share their enthusiasm for the religious life. Brown became pregnant and tried to get Gillette to marry her.

Under pressure from Brown, Gillette took her on a weekend trip to the Adirondack mountains, where he registered under a false name, using his own initials as did Clyde Griffiths. Then Gillette took Grace Brown out on a boat on Big Moose Lake in Herkimer County, New York, where, it was later alleged, he struck her repeatedly with a tennis racquet and threw her into the lake.

Her body was soon found, and Gillette, who had failed to effectively cover his tracks, was arrested. The extent to which Dreiser followed his source will be obvious from this summary. Large parts of the speeches by the lawyers are based on the speeches made by lawyers in the Gillette trial.

Dreiser does make some important changes, however. Critics argue that he allowed his journalistic instincts to get the better of the imagination of the fiction writer. An American Tragedy is often referred to as a great novel, and the fact that it is still read and studied nearly a century after it was published is testimony to its quality and the enduring fascination it has exerted over several generations of readers.

The novel, at well over pages in most editions, is a sprawling work, and many argue that the novel would have benefited from some careful pruning by a tactful editor. XLV, p. But Dreiser was also capable of sharp dialogue, acute psychological insight, and the ability to write a scene economically to maximum emotional effect.

An American Tragedy may have its stylistic faults, but it is a great work nonetheless. We provide an educational supplement for better understanding of classic and contemporary literature. Please check back weekly to see what we have added. Please let us know if you have any suggestions or comments or would like any additional information.

Thanks for checking out our website. More Details. Mobile Menu. What are You Studying? Ask Question Novelguide Rooms. Breadcrumb Home An American Tragedy. Facebook share Twitter WhatsApp. Gerald Ford. Harry Shippe Truman. In an interview for Salon Gates said that "since slavery ended all political movements have been about race.

Kennesaw Mountain High School school has a spirit week in the days leading up to homecoming. During my senior year, just after the kneeling of the NFL players, the student government and I decided to try something new: Freedom Friday, in which students wear patriotic clothing as a celebration of American freedom. We thought it was harmless fun, but. Even though Native tribes rarely formed positive relationships with European settlers, the long lasting settlement of the Europeans in America eventually led to deadly diseases which led to a drastic loss in their population, altercations with cultural and religious beliefs, as well as famine and physical abuse.

This would soon lead to the demise of the Native Americans. When European. The significances of the Civil War was a true tragedy in American history, from tensed disparities between states to mass killings of the brutal battles.

Prior to the Civil War there was mass tension between the North which were the Union and the South that were seen as the confederacy. Well-known professor of American history, William Appleman Williams, crafts The Tragedy of American Diplomacy to illustrate that there is more to history than what meets the eye — more than what most Americans have been taught.

He argues that there is a tragic past when the history of American diplomacy is analyzed. Throughout crucial periods of time in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Williams explores and analyzes instances in which American diplomacy was challenged, policy was deficient. The American Dream : A Tragedy The land of opportunity: a place where we are promised that hard work and determination will grant us the American dream.

The idea of the American dream means something different to us all, but ultimately, we expect results from our hard work and accomplishments. We want to have equal opportunities and a chance at success. As hopeful as that sounds, the harsh reality is that even with years of experience, an education, and impeccable work ethic, we are not all. American Tragedy Essay. Page 1 of 50 - About essays.

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Free Essay: There are many aspects of Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy that involve the moral decision versus the immoral decision and God. The main. Free Essays from Bartleby | Theodore Dreiser's, An American Tragedy is a prime example of how social tensions between the rich and the poor and the vicious. An American Tragedy was published in December , and issued in two volumes. Dreiser created a poignant yet powerful novel of youthful loneliness in.