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Publisher's Summary

An American Tragedy is the story of Clyde Griffiths, who spends his life in the desperate pursuit of success. On a deeper, more 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 achievement.
First published in 1925 and based on an actual criminal case, An American Tragedy was the inspiration for the 1951 film A Place in the Sun, which won six Academy Awards and starred Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift.
©1925 Theodore Dreiser (P)2011 Tantor
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By beatrice on 05-31-12

a period piece, still resonant

Though most of the factory girls who make our clothes are now overseas, Dreiser's themes of social inequality, evangelical Christianity, the death penalty, and access to birth control and abortion are disquietingly familiar today. Dreiser (who partied with anarchist Emma Goldman) is sensitive and unsparing in his exploration of these issues. Protagonist Clyde Griffiths would probably make the list of "fifty boyfriends worse than yours," but narrator Dan John Miller gives him the necessary charm to make his story credible. The book drags a bit near the end, but is memorable overall.

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25 of 26 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Michael on 11-23-14

Funny in Perspective

I found this book funny on almost every page. Not ha-ha funny, but a mild warm sardonic funny. This is not a classic tragedy of fate directing the characters to untimely deaths, instead, through an unbiased narrator, we see nature simply take its course without morality or judgment or even meaning, towards untimely death. The narrator seems not to be God, but some neutral naturalistic viewer of all the characters and situations, and from this perspective everything, including death, may seem funny.

If you don’t see the very subtle humor in this novel early on, it will likely seem tediously long and slow, as the novel follows the main character’s developing motivations, beliefs, and actions as they slowly and inevitability, unfold. This powerful inevitability reminds me of Russia writers, as such inevitability is rare in American novels. As I saw the silliness of the character’s choices (which will certainly lead to unpleasant consequences) I felt compassion, yet I had to chuckle.

The characters are very well developed, even the very minor characters, yet I related more with the narrator than any of the characters, and the story was, of course, predictable. I was moved by this writing and think I will be affected by the undercurrents of this novel for quite some time to come.

The narration was flawless, using subtle tones of voice to reflect the subtle inconsistencies and indecision within the characters.

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30 of 32 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Anders on 01-01-17

Marathon Masterpiece

The narration is incredible, he really is skilled when it comes to switching voices subtly and swiftly. Certain female voices (e.g. Roberta's) are rather annoying though, in my humble opinion.

The author's phrasing is very interesting. Paying close attention to every word is a joy.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By peter l on 06-18-18

The Title Says it All

A book which lays bare the American Dream. The burning desire of a young man for riches, beauty, status and love must surely end badly. His pursuit of the Dream is haphazard but he is dealt a unique opportunity by distant family connections. Weak and indecisive, but possessed of an uncontrollable drive to escape poverty and humiliation, Clyde Griffiths follows the family connection to reveal a world of money, culture and power. Intrigue is bedfellow to this society and Clyde is doomed by a fatal attraction to the beautiful and effervescent Sondra Finchley. Though his pursuit of the high society socialite is surely fruitless, the fatal entanglement is sewn by his philandering with Roberta Alden, a poor, pretty and pious girl whose innocence is taken by the feckless Clyde. Roberta is pregnant just when Clyde seems to have captured the heart of Sondra. Clyde must escape Roberta's demand for marriage, but, as Dreiser asks often, 'how to do?'

Clyde is driven to consider murder. As with all his affairs, Clyde's planning and execution is shambolic. Roberta is drowned, even Clyde is unsure whether he actually killed her. Clyde will stand trial, the death penalty awaits. It is no concern of his lawyers whether Clyde is guilty or not. Belknap wants only a judgeship and will do whatever it takes to get it. Likewise, the prosecuting lawyer, Mason. Whether Clyde escapes the Chair or not, the cynicism of American society, where money talks but rarely honestly, is perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the book. Dreiser's style can be dry bordering on the turgid but beneath the heavy prose is a story which needed to be told.

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