Free Study Guide for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser|
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FREE BOOK SUMMARY FOR AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY
In his personal life, Dreiser was less than morally resolute. He married Sara Osborne White in 1892, and she played a key role in the development and writing of Sister Carrie. However, he was notorious for his infidelities - the sexual voracity of the men in his work were inspired in no small part by his own yearnings - but eventually settled with another woman, his cousin Helen Richardson. They married after Sara White's death in 1942. Theodore Dreiser died on December 28, 1945, in Hollywood, California, where he resided since the 1920s.
Dreiser was a major literary figure in the first part of the twentieth century,
with prominent friends in literary, artistic and politically active circles.
As the century progressed his body of work has since been mostly forgotten
by the public, with only his major novels read with any frequency - and
often highly criticized for the turgid writing style and mechanistic view
of humanity. However, a resurgence of interest has led to a rehabilitation
of Dreiser's reputation and a renewed appreciation for the importance
- both literary and social - of his finest work.
The novel was inspired by two personal histories: Dreiserís own early life, recounted above, and the murder trial of Chester Gillette. Like Dreiser, Gillette's immediate family was involved in charity and spiritual work - in their case, the Salvation Army - and move frequently. Also like Dreiser, Gillette was given a chance to pursue a better education than his early life permitted, but did not stick with it. Leaving school, Gillette went to work for his uncle, the owner of the Gillette Skirt Factory in Cortland, New York.
Grace Brown escaped the tedium of farm life by following her sister to Cortland, working in the Gillette factory. The two become involved in 1905 and by 1906 Grace became pregnant. She demanded Chester do something about their situation, temporarily moving back with her parents but writing to Chester frequently. Chester reputedly had never been faithful to Grace, enjoying some social prestige due to his relations, and continued to see other women even in this crisis. After threatening to expose him in her letters, he finally agreed to meet her. With Gillette using different aliases throughout (though Grace used her real name), the two traveled through Utica and other towns before arriving at Big Moose Lake on July 11, 1906. They rented a boat but had not returned by evening; a search took place, and the body of Grace was found in the water, her face mutilated. Chester was quickly found and arrested; Grace's letters were discovered and it was believed the tennis racket Chester carried on their boat trip was used to strike her.
Chester was abandoned by his uncle Noah and relied on a court appointed lawyer. The trial led to a great media sensation at the time. There were rumors of "another woman", forcing a Harriet Benedict to formally state she wasn't this person. The prosecution strung together a compelling case based on circumstantial evidence, while the defense offered that Grace Brown committed suicide. Gillette gave testimony claiming Grace stepping out of the boat in a panic when he told her he wanted to tell her family of the pregnancy. The jury found Gillette guilty, sentencing him to death. Chester's mother, Louise, was living in Denver at the time and, convinced by Chester of his innocence, sought for an appeal to the case. The Denver Times paid for Louise to go to New York; she did so and tried to raise money for Chester's appeal, but eventually was forced to return to Denver. The appeal was denied, leading to another visit to New York by Louise, who fruitlessly spoke with the governor. Chester Gillette was electrocuted on March 30, 1908.
Dreiser's novel inspired great debate on how faithfully it depicted the real life events, but became the basis for other re-tellings of the events. An American Tragedy led to a stage adaptation, followed by a movie adaptation released in 1931, over the initial protests of both Dreiser and Grace Brown's mother. Another film version, A Place in the Sun, was released in 1951 and earned six Academy Awards.
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Mescallado, Ray. "TheBestNotes on An American Tragedy".
. 09 May 2017