Theodore  Dreiser
Symposium 2001
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Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, MA
Briana Foley
“Characters Symbolic of American Tragedy
in Theodore Dreiser’s Works”
“The Rise and Fall of Book Censorship 1870-1930”


Theodore Dreiser presents two characters, Carrie and Clyde who are symbolic of tragic failures in his novels Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy. Both of these characters enter a self-destructive path while trying to achieve their American dreams. Both attempt to reach their goals in different manners, but they each fail to do so. These characters are greatly influenced by the elite society that surrounds them. They both long for material success and use their professional roles in order to try and reach new social heights. The relationships in which Carrie and Clyde involve themselves bring them more unhappiness, for both reject whatever positive family influence they may have had. Carrie and Clyde are symbolic of people who failed to achieve the American Dream. Both of these characters, though briefly attaining the goals they previously set, never find true happiness. Carrie and Clyde are American tragedies.

Dreiser was composing his novels during a time in which literary censorship played a large role in society. The years before and after the turn of the twentieth century, were plagued by literary censorship. Zealous advocates of censorship founded anti-vice societies and used these associations to put many publishers, authors and booksellers out of work. Though their fierce campaigns prevented Americans from experiencing literary classics, these censorship crusaders eventually were met with just as forceful anti-censorship organizations. The American public that had once revered those who attempted to rid the United States of “obscene” literature changed its opinion. Americans came to reject Victorian society and become more accepting of “obscene” material. This along with financial failures ended the harsh literary censorship of the late 1800s and early 1900s and thus allowed true freedom of the press to exist.

Photo credit: http://www2.cwrl.utexas.edu/VANDER/316S97/MTRICE/dreiser/drsr.htm