An American Tragedy
Published in 1925, An American Tragedy is loosely based on a true story and is considered the best example of American Naturalism. It is the story of Clyde Griffiths, whose desire to see the American dream made manifest in his life almost leads him to commit murder. In just one of the novel’s examples of irony, Clyde is found guilty of committing murder, even though his intended victim died accidentally.
An American Tragedy is typical of Dreiser’s work in demythologizing the American dream. Dreiser felt that believing in the American dream led to heartbreak, disappointment, and cynicism. An American Tragedy typifies Naturalism because it concerns an ordinary middle-class man whose circumstances push him to make extreme choices. Having always dreamed of a better life and having always been told he could create that life, he is finally on the brink of entering the upper echelons of society when a wealthy woman becomes romantically interested in him. The problem is that he already has planned to marry a poor woman who has had his child. This situation is devastating for Clyde because he sees his long-awaited opportunity to fulfill his dreams slipping away. The lure of the American dream proves too strong, and he plans to kill his betrothed.
Upon publication, An American Tragedy received popular and critical acclaim. Some critics suggest that the novel’s popular success was due to the post-World War I public’s desire to read about individual accountability in society. After all, Clyde is found guilty of a crime he intended to commit. Critically, the novel is declared a masterpiece and is deemed Dreiser’s best work. Although some reviewers claim that the book is inelegantly written, contains bad grammar, and is overly melodramatic, most enthusiastically recommend it.
The Call of the Wild
Although it started as a short story, London’s The Call of the Wild (1903) soon became a wildly popular novel. The money London made by selling the rights to the novel enabled him to purchase a boat on which he could disappear and write without distraction. Read all over the world and taught in schools, The Call of the Wild is now considered a classic of American fiction.
The Call of the Wild is about a dog named Buck who is taken from his home in California and put on a dog team in the Yukon. In his new environment, he must assert himself among the other dogs to survive. He is eventually adopted by a loving man named John Thornton, whose patience and kindness teach Buck to trust and love. This novel is unique among naturalist novels because its main character is not a person, but this is also why it is a good example of Naturalism. The laws and forces of nature are laid bare in the story of Buck. His interaction with the pack, nature, and people reveals the laws of nature.
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