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In the work of Theodore Dreiser, if Clyde Griffiths is the protagonist, then who would...

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barrjaime1 | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 2, 2007 at 4:13 PM via web

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In the work of Theodore Dreiser, if Clyde Griffiths is the protagonist, then who would be the antagonist?

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dymatsuoka | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 3, 2007 at 1:02 AM (Answer #1)

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American Tragedy is a novel where the conflict is man vs. environment or, alternately, man vs. himself. The antagonist, then, would be not another person, but a situation, or a trait within the character himself that the protagonist must battle against.

If we accept that the conflict is man vs. environment, then the antagonist is the combination of social and hereditary constraints into which Clyde is born. Clyde is born in poverty to a family that is not especially resourceful or notable.  Though he longs for the American dream of success, he cannot escape his background to attain it.

If we look at the conflict as man vs. self, then the antagonist is Clyde's overwhelming desire to achieve material well-being and success, and the moral weakness that allows him to pursue his desire at all costs. He is so consumed with this craving that he is willing to commit murder in order to get what he wants.

In either case, consistent with the naturalistic philosophy underlying the novel, Clyde the protagonist is ruined by the antagonistic forces he faces.

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