Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Two symbolic passages concerning sea predators, one early in the novel and one at the conclusion, provide important clues to understanding Theodore Dreiser’s theme in The Financier. As a boy, Frank Cowperwood stoically observes an unequal contest in a large fish tank between a lobster and a squid. The lobster, certain of victory, bides his time and slowly devours the defenseless squid. In the context of Dreiser’s social metaphor, the strong destroy the weak, whether with sudden terrible force or gradually and relentlessly, like the lobster. The final symbolic passage, crudely added as an epilogue to the novel, treats the Mycteroperca bonaci (or black grouper), which, chameleonlike, changes its colors to avoid danger or to strike out at a weaker adversary. From Dreiser’s point of view, the black grouper represents an element of “subtlety, chicanery, trickery” that is also part of the human condition. The fish is no more responsible, in a Godless universe, for its trickery than humans are morally responsible for using deception as a means of power. In The Titan (1914), Dreiser continued the theme embodied in Frank’s rise to wealth and influence, an ascent that is determined by what the author understands as the laws of social Darwinism, as well as the theme of his socially conditioned fall from power. In The Financier, Dreiser details, with a naturalistic concern for inductive evidence, the causes both for Frank’s...

(The entire section is 557 words.)