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
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.
I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.
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.
I would listen to this book again. I really enjoyed the story. I particularly appreciate the fact that Dreiser had the courage to have an anti-hero play the main character in the story. The plot completely surprised me.
I enjoy listening to stories that completly catch me off guard, especially when they are realistic. This book in particular achieved this.
Miller is a good narrator. His reading fit the story.
I listen to books at work on a daily basis - I would look forward to listening to this book so I could find out what would happen next. There were many lines in the book that made me laugh out loud.
An american Tragedy and Sister Carrie (also by Dreiser) are excellent books. I will listen to other books by Theodore Dreiser
Business Physicist and Astronomer
Great story, perfectly delivered. Add to your top 100 list of all-time great pieces of literature.
I highly recommend this book.
I'm open to any book as long as it is true to itself.
This book is exceptionally long. I was daunted by the length, but found it utterly compelling. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. The minutiae of the writing reveals much about the historical period. This is very different from the movie adaptation "A Place in the Sun" which softens the story. The author does not tell you how to feel about the characters and the events, leaving you to make up your own mind. This is emotionally moving and an excellent story. Narration is also excellent.
This book had me glued to my seat on the subway. I knew what was going to happen, but the transformation of the main character from an easygoing victim of circumstance to a reluctant murderer was fascinating.
My favorite character was Roberta Alden whom I felt sorry for and who epitomized for me the tragedy of this book. Clyde Griffiths was too flawed a character for me to consider tragic.
The narrator did a great job with Clyde and Roberta, but also was outstanding with the district attourney and Roberta's father. His voice is able to pinpoint the role of the character. I haven't even finished this book, but so far every character is portrayed with authenticity.
It is too big for one sitting, but whenever I had spare time, my mp3 player was on to this book.
By all means, buy the book from audible. Dreiser may have some shortcomings with his prose. He is not as elegant as Trollope, but the narrator brings it right to the emotions. My best books in audible are those that get me emotionally stirred whether joyfully or sadly. This is one of those books.
"There is scarcely any passion without struggle." Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays
"Well is it known that ambition can creep as well as soar."
I'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 and his 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 its stigma. He's grown up the impoverished son of traveling evangelists. After working as a bellman in his teen years in Kansas City, then for a year in Chicago, he runs into his uncle (whom he's never met before) and basically invites himself to go to work at his uncle's shirt collar factory in upstate New York.
Of course, he falls for pure beauty shortly after beginning work in the form of a young, rather bland underling of rural beginnings named Roberta. He's allured by the wealth and society of the town (being related, but not close to, one of the richest families), and when the town's prettiest and most popular, but shallow, young socialite, Sondra Finchley, starts paying attention to him, he dumps Roberta. Roberta finds out she's pregnant by Clyde, but they look for a doctor to perform an abortion, to no avail. Clyde's plans of a new life are on the rocks.
You can probably guess where this is headed. This is not an ingenious criminal plan that might be drawn up by our finest crime writers. Clyde must be one of the dumbest criminals ever. To be fair though, Dreiser was aiming more for Clyde's thought processes and the circumstances that bring him to the point where he would take the life of his girlfriend, without even considering the 2+-month-old fetus that would be 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, when viewed as other than local, nearly a century later has become almost numb to such reported true life crimes unless the reporting goes much deeper into the criminal psyche or provides more salacious details (which wasn't the case here).
Urban planner. Environmentalist. Geek.
The book provides a lot of insight on why it's so important to have a good influence in one's life. The main character essentially ends up a jerk because he just doesn't know any better.
But the book reads like a series of examples from a grammar textbook. Even for highly emotional passages, he uses constructions such as (to paraphrase): "the girl to which he, in a previous such case, had denied killing, and about which he felt most terrible, was also such a girl that..." Ugh.
BT the V.E.T.
I don't often write reviews but I had to mention this. The story was good, and well told. Definitely worth a listen. However, the sheer number of times that the word "dubious" was used was enough to make me crazy. "He looked dubiously" "He seemed rather dubious". "With a dubious expression, he..." The first few times I didn't notice but then it was like a dam holding back Lake Dubious was broken and washed over the rest of the story. Not obliterating the story altogether but definitely making it less distinct and worthwhile. Like a flooded playground. Anyway, like I said it was a very interesting story but I wish a thesaurus had been close at hand at the time of the writing.
Say something about yourself!
This book ranks in the top ten of the many books I've read.
The book is a story surrounding the main character. He takes us through the realm of a life unable to be imagined, and suddenly all too vividly real! Therefore he is my favorite , though he is not always likeable.
Audible readings improve all books for me. The book is read with emphasis and expression as the author intended, not as I "blindly" stumble through!
Yes, This book has strongly affected me because it forced me to see how behaviors which are considered to be unpleasant, but not necessarily awful, can lead to evil actions which an individual would not have believed himself capable of.
The book is from times gone by, but that does not distract from the story. We are given a look at how similar criminals are to everyone else. We are given a first hand view of the consequences of the actions of one person 's split second crossover in behavior which causes him to become a "criminal" .
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.
"monumental crime and punishment"
You will need all your stamina to get through this. Not for the faint hearted
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