An American Tragedy by Theordore Dreiser: Reality and Fiction Cause the Demise of the American Dream

Essay by Liz0505High School, 11th gradeA+, March 2004

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Throughout literary history, authors have changed, but they all have drawn ideas for their prose from their own life experiences. Such is the case with Theodore Dreiser. Dreiser uses events from his life and from a 1906 murder trial when he wrote his novel, An American Tragedy. This novel combines the elements of reality and fiction. Within the novel, these elements combine to create the downfall of the American Dream.

Clyde Griffiths, the protagonist in An American Tragedy, is representative of two nonfictional people, Theodore Dreiser and Chester Gillette. Dreiser uses his life along with that of Chester Gillette in the character of Clyde; however, he must change parts of Clyde's character in order to make him the victim within the novel.

The literary definition of an American Dream is, "A catch-phrase used to symbolize American social or material values in general" (qtd. in Adamson 21). Therefore, the American Dream is responsible for people working harder to attain a higher position and wealth in life.

The reader can see throughout the novel Clyde Griffiths' ambition for a better life, which one can view as his quest of the American Dream. "The story examines the manner in which one man's fate is determined by his background, personality and environmental conditions that lead him to desire luxuries and perquisites beyond his reach" (Karolides, Bald, and Sova 268). Clyde's quest for a better life is symbolized by attaining material possessions, including wealth and position.

His dreams of having wealth stem from his childhood with his evangelistic parents who live in more poverty than Clyde will stand for himself. "For Clyde was as vain and proud as he was poor" (Dreiser 12). When Clyde is sixteen years old, he looks for a job to bring in money for himself, "It was so hard...