An American Tragedy

by Theodore Dreiser · read January 6, 2023


I didn't really like this book, but it was good. The prose was so hard to get through, and the story seemed to drag on and on, belabouring the same struggles and thoughts over and over… but it dragged on artfully, like a nightmare that just wouldn't end, like Clyde's life. It was as if I was stuck in a psychic prison where the way out was always clear yet out of reach.

What particularly struck me was a passage at the very end of the novel wherein Clyde reflects that his mother could never truly understand him, because she doesn't understand his relentless desire for wealth and status. My instinctual reaction was ‘no kidding, you literally murdered your lover because you wanted to ride horses at the cottage with your friends', but I think it does illuminate what Dreiser explored through the character of Clyde—the obsession with having when one has not.

It was as though there was an unsurmountable wall or impenetrable barrier between them, built by the lack of understanding—for it was just that. She would never understand his craving for ease and luxury, for beauty, for love—his particular kind of love that went with show, pleasure, wealth, position, his eager and immutable aspirations and desires. She could not understand these things. She would look on all of it as sin.

(I also really liked the part where the lawyer was like ‘man this guy is bad at murder': After grilling Clyde for four long hours one hot July afternoon, he was eventually compelled to desist with the feeling that as a plotter of crime Clyde was probably the most arresting example of feeble and blundering incapacity he had ever met.)

Julia Cooke © 2024