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.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Hussman, Lawrence E., Jr. Dreiser and His Fiction: A Twentieth-Century Quest. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983. Good discussion of Dreiser’s attitudes toward women, marriage, and prostitution, as well as his belief in “the giving spirit of women.” Also discusses Cowperwood’s search for the ideal woman.

Lehan, Richard. Theodore Dreiser: His World and His Novels. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969. A critical study of Dreiser’s novels that focuses on their genesis, evolution, pattern, and meaning. Discusses such influences on the author’s imagination as family, city, work, and politics. Analyzes Cowperwood as a materialist Horatio Alger hero who appreciates beauty and art.

Lingeman, Richard. An American Journey, 1908-1945. Vol. 2 in Theodore Dreiser. New York: Putnam, 1990. Explores Dreiser’s composition of The Titan in relation to other aspects of his life. Points out that his doing research for the book in Chicago in 1912 diverged from his previous procedure in writing Sister Carrie (1900) and Jennie Gerhardt (1911).

Mukherjee, Arun. The Gospel of Wealth in the American Novel: The Rhetoric of Dreiser and Some of His Contemporaries. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1987. In the context of the popular myth of the American dream, Mukherjee sees Cowperwood as “a representative figure, a microcosm that reflects the macrocosm of American society.”

Pizer, Donald. The Novels of Theodore Dreiser: A Critical Study. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1976. Discusses Dreiser’s research of historical sources relating to Charles T. Yerkes for the character of Cowperwood. Chronicles his creative choices and the novel’s publication history. Extensive discussion of Cowperwood’s sexual life as representing Dreiser’s interpretation of public morality in America.