Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Chicago. Dreiser loved and admired Chicago. He wrote about it in many of his novels, including Sister Carrie (1900) and An American Tragedy (1925). The Titan presents a vivid, accurate picture of urban life in America at the turn of the twentieth century, when horses provided almost all the city’s transportation, and there were no automobiles, buses, telephones, radios, phonographs, refrigerators, air-conditioning, or other amenities that are now taken for granted. All entertainments were live; social life centered around private homes. Women were largely confined indoors as housewives, mothers, and hostesses. Social classes were rigidly stratified. There were no labor unions, social security, unemployment insurance, or workers’ compensation insurance.

The plot of The Titan centers on the epic struggle of ruthless men for control of the lucrative streetcar traffic in the city. The evolution of streetcars exemplifies not only Chicago’s rapid growth but also the frantic pace of change taking place in the United States, in which millions of native-born citizens and European immigrants are being torn from the soil and drawn into urban centers. The slow, inefficient horse-drawn streetcars are replaced by cable cars, which in turn are quickly replaced with cars powered by electricity. Finally, elevated tracks become the last word in urban transportation. The city expands with the streetcar lines, and the streetcar lines form a larger and larger web around the expanding city.

Michigan Avenue Mansion

Michigan Avenue Mansion. Chicago home of the powerful entrepreneur Frank Algernon Cowperwood, for whom social success means as much as financial success. He...

(The entire section is 720 words.)