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FREE Ø An American Tragedy ó An American Tragedy is the story of Clyde Griffiths, who spends his life in the desperate pursuit of success On a deeper, profound level, it is the masterful portrayal of the society whose values both shape Clyde s ambitions and seal his fate it is an unsurpassed depiction of the harsh realities of American life and of the dark side of the American dream Extraordinary in scope and power, vivid in its sense of wholesale human waste, unceasing in its rich compassion, An American Tragedy stands as Theodore Dreiser s supreme achievementBased on an actual criminal case, An American Tragedy was the inspiration for the film A Place in the Sun , which won six Academy Awards and starred Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Cliff Well is it known that ambition can creep as well as soar Edmund BurkeI m relatively sure that in 1925 this novel was bleeding edge based on a true crime, mixing an omniscient narrative, mostly of the anti hero Clyde Griffiths inner thoughts, with some reportage Dreiser based it on the notorious criminal prosecution of a young man named Chester Gillette for the murder in the summer of 1906 of a 20 year old lady found drowned near an overturned boat at Big Moose Lake in the Adirondacks He wa Well is it known that ambition can creep as well as soar Edmund BurkeI m relatively sure that in 1925 this novel was bleeding edge based on a true crime, mixing an omniscient narrative, mostly of the anti hero Clyde Griffiths inner thoughts, with some reportage Dreiser based it on the notorious criminal prosecution of a young man named Chester Gillette for the murder in the summer of 1906 of a 20 year old lady found drowned near an overturned boat at Big Moose Lake in the Adirondacks He was executed in the electric chair in March 1908.In the novel, Clyde Griffiths is ambitious, driven by a need to escape poverty and rise way above its stigma, after growing up impoverished as the son of traveling evangelists After working as a bellman in his teen years in Kansas City, then in Chicago where he runs into his uncle whom he s never met before , he goes to work, after basically inviting himself, at his uncle s shirt collar factory in upstate New York After working his way up the ladder a bit, he falls for pure beauty, a young, rather bland underling of rural beginnings named Roberta Yet he is overly fascinated with and allured by the wealth and society of the town being related, but not close to, one of its richest families , so when the town s prettiest and most popular, but shallow, young socialite starts paying him attention, he dumps Roberta Roberta then finds out she s pregnant They look for a doctor to perform an abortion, to no avail Clyde s plans of a new glamorous life are on the rocks You can probably guess where this is headed This is not an ingenious criminal plan drawn up by our finest crime writers Clyde must be one of the dumbest criminals ever To be fair though, Dreiser was aimingfor Clyde s thought processes and the circumstances that brought him to the point where he would take the life of his girlfriend pregnant with his child The novel is loaded with symbolism and foreshadowing e.g., the society girls are electrifying And I sort of lost interest once it became apparent to me that he didn t have the slightest chance of being deemed not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect Also, I found the dialogue hokey at times, the prose quite plastic, and chunks of the novel dispassionate due to blending reporting into the narrative While this was probably sensational in the late 1920s after its publication, it pains me to say that our society nearly a century later including me, in all matters besides local, has become almost numb to such reported true life crimes except when the reporting goes much deeper into the criminal psyche or providessalacious details which wasn t the case here I remember reading this one, years ago, in a really bad flat in Mapperley Park It was so horribly dusty all the time That was because I never dusted And when I looked out of my window I saw a wall And when I looked out of my other window, I saw a different wall Much like the hero of this brilliant novel metaphorically speaking And then, one day, in the wall, he notices a door And he wants to open it and pass through to somewhere better The very thing that other reviewers didn t like ab I remember reading this one, years ago, in a really bad flat in Mapperley Park It was so horribly dusty all the time That was because I never dusted And when I looked out of my window I saw a wall And when I looked out of my other window, I saw a different wall Much like the hero of this brilliant novel metaphorically speaking And then, one day, in the wall, he notices a door And he wants to open it and pass through to somewhere better The very thing that other reviewers didn t like about this whopping novel was what made it another of my great reading experiences which I remember like the memory of passing through something tremendous as if it was the Grand Canyon and not a novel at all they didn t like, but I did, the painful awful awe full inevitability of the events, the doom of the characters, the dance of death we get drawn into for the last 200 pages it s a quadrille, very formal, the partners are the characters, the plot, the author and ourselves, us, the readers It s like a nightmare you can t wake up from We know that, the characters know that, they re screaming, we re screaming, Dreiser has us caught in his fist of words and won t let us go until we know how it is that ordinary people can do terrible things which they never wanted to, they would have sold their souls not to, but they did Wow Quite an epic novel here I can see why this one is a classic.At first, I was not sure how this one was going for me As it is very long and hit a somewhat slow and repetitive patch about a third of the way through, I thought it was going to be 3 or 4 stars But, with the way it was written, I was enthralled as it hit the midpoint and could not keep myself away from it until it was done So, I am giving the slow and repetitive part a pass in this case and saying, without a doubt, that this Wow Quite an epic novel here I can see why this one is a classic.At first, I was not sure how this one was going for me As it is very long and hit a somewhat slow and repetitive patch about a third of the way through, I thought it was going to be 3 or 4 stars But, with the way it was written, I was enthralled as it hit the midpoint and could not keep myself away from it until it was done So, I am giving the slow and repetitive part a pass in this case and saying, without a doubt, that this is a 5 star book.You may see that I marked this as a legal drama Unfortunately, that is a bit of a spoiler because it does not become that until about 2 3 of the way through But, that is exactly what the first two thirds of the book is building up to It is a commentary on society at the time the book was written religion, social status, relationships, morals, crime, punishment, etc etc etc It is all in here and it makes for quite a stew for the readers consumption I think that this book that will certainly engage many and might infuriate some The main character, Clyde, is such that you want to reach into the pages frequently, shake him, and yell, WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH YOU But, no matter how you react to the story and the characters, it will leave you thinking about right vs wrong, decision making, justifying behavior to yourself, etc I cannot say for sure that there is one definitive interpretation for the resolution of this book I think it could possibly be interpreted a hundred different ways and they would all be correct.I am very thankful to have read this for a book club, because I am not sure if I would have ever picked it up otherwise It is nice that groups of fellow readers help me find intriguing titles like this that will have me thinking for quite some time to come Qoholeth UpdatedNone of us is born knowing what we want We are taught what we want by other people We do not choose these other people from whom we learn they just happen Our parents also just happen but in general we feel it is necessary to unlearn whatever it is they ve taught us to want, especially if it involves an unimportant looking family publicly raising its collective voice against the vast skepticism sic and apathy of life Learning from strangers is frequently regretted in late Qoholeth UpdatedNone of us is born knowing what we want We are taught what we want by other people We do not choose these other people from whom we learn they just happen Our parents also just happen but in general we feel it is necessary to unlearn whatever it is they ve taught us to want, especially if it involves an unimportant looking family publicly raising its collective voice against the vast skepticism sic and apathy of life Learning from strangers is frequently regretted in later life but always welcomed as it occurs What we learn from strangers, what we are taught to want, is what has been identified since ancient times as vanity Vanity is not only the pleasure we get from gazing at our image in a mirror although that, too, particularly among Dreiser s women It is that old mass yearning for a likeness as Dreiser has it Vanity is the compulsion to see what we want ourselves to be in other people and to imitate them however that is possible Vanity is the theme of Dreiser s masterpiece, a theme that never loses its relevance or painful personal intimacy As the ancient writer of the book of Ecclesiastes knew so clearly inevitably everything is vanity Also, inevitably, given that it is the core of human existence, pointing it out has little effect that too is an exercise in vanity.Dreiser s genius is his ability to track the life long path of vanity in its toe curling detail From our embarrassment about parental idiosyncrasies to our growing faux wisdom about what is important in life and the meaning of success, his step by step descriptions of the way we are enticed into preferences that we believe are matters of an independent and considered free will are astounding, and disconcerting.Disconcerting because it is, I think, impossible not to identify at some point in his life with the protagonist, Clyde Griffiths, as he stumbles into a life not his own, yet clung to all thefor that very reason We in the modern world are expected to honour our own histories It is What got us here what makes us who we are Wishing any other life would be the secular equivalent of sin, a repudiation of our own independent existence To have Dreiser articulate the truth that our formation as human beings is a random development is not just uncomfortable, it rocks the foundations of personality.One might think that experience alone should be enough to alert us, at least eventually, to the hubris of our attitude of self createdness But experience never repeats itself Our experience of youth is not relevant to our experience of adulthood or middle age Semper aliquid novum ex Africa is how the Romans put it There are always new things coming out of Africa For them Africa, surprisingly to modern minds, represented the future, for which they, and we, are permanently unprepared by experience.So Clyde is in fact incapable of learning from one stage of life to another All he can do is reinforce persistent prejudices and abiding fears He digs himself progressively deeper into his non life with increasing fervour This is because Clyde s form of vanity, adopted in youth and refined with maturity, is ambition Ambition is not just desire for that which others possess it is the desire for what others have because they have it As such it is insatiable, the crack cocaine of vanity And it is the most socially acceptable, in fact encouraged, form of vanity To top it all, ambition provokes ambition in others The result is as Thomas Hobbes imagined in the 16th century a constant war of all against each other, waged without quarter.The tragedy that Dreiser narrates is not the mistakes and false moves that Clyde Griffiths, or we, make as human beings It is the inevitability of the un freedom inherent in ambition, that particularly American virtue Paradoxically, it is the source of the scepticism and apathy that Dreiser was so concerned about Scepticism is the suspicion that others merely want what we have Apathy is the lack of interest in what might be important other than what others have These are very American tragedies indeed