American Literature. Book III. Table of Contents. Theodore Dreiser Edwin Arlington Robinson Carl Sandburg Sinclair Lewis Henry L. Mencken F. Scott Fitzgerald John Steinbeck. Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945).
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American Literature Book III
Table of Contents • Theodore Dreiser • Edwin Arlington Robinson • Carl Sandburg • Sinclair Lewis • Henry L. Mencken • F. Scott Fitzgerald • John Steinbeck
Theodore Dreiser(1871-1945) • American author, outstanding representative of naturalism, whose novels depict real-life subjects in a harsh light
Theodore Dreiser was born in Terre Haute, Indiana in 1871. The ninth child of German immigrants, he experienced considerable poverty while a child and at the age of fifteen was forced to leave home in search of work.
After briefly attending Indiana University, he found work as a reporter on the Chicago Globe. Later he worked for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, the St. Louis Republic and Pittsburgh Dispatch, before moving to New York where he attempted to establish himself as a novelist. He was a voracious reader, and the impact of such writers as Hawthorne, Poe, Balzac, Herbert Spencer, and Freud influenced his thought and his reaction against organized religion.
Dreiser worked for the New York World before Frank Norris, who was working for Doubleday, helped Dreiser's first novel, Sister Carrie (1900), to be published. However, the owners disapproved of the novel's subject matter (the moral corruption of the heroine, Carrie Meeber) and it was not promoted and therefore sold badly.
The young author felt so depressed by “a decade’s delay”—in the words of Larzer Ziff—in social recognition that he was said to have walked by the East River at the turn of the century, seriously committing suicide.
Dreiser was left-oriented in his views. • Dreiser continued to work as a journalist and as well as writing for mainstream newspapers such as the Saturday Evening Post, also had work published in socialist magazines such as The Call. However, unlike many of his literary friends such as Sinclair Lewis, and Jack London, he never joined the Socialist Party.
In 1898 Dreiser married Sara White, a Missouri schoolteacher, but the marriage was unhappy. Dreiser separated permanently from her in 1909, but never earnestly sought a divorce. • In his own life Dreiser practiced his principle that man's greatest appetite is sexual - the desire for women
His strength clearly ebbing, Dreiser died of heart failure on December 28, 1945, before completing the last chapter of The Stoic. • Dreiser was buried in Hollywood's Forest Lawn Cemetery on January 3, 1946.
1. Works Trilogy of Desire • Sister Carrie 1900 • Jennie Gerhardt 1911 • An American Tragedy 1925 • The Financier 1912 • The Titan 1914 • The Stoic (posthumously) • The Genius 1915 • Dreiser Looks at Russia 1928 autobiographically
The Financier (1912) and The Titan (1914) about Frank Cowperwood, a power-hungry business tycoon. • An American Tragedy (1925) was based on the Chester Gillette and Grace Brown murder case that had taken place in 1906.
About Sister Carrie Sister Carrie, published in 1900, stands at the gateway of the new century. Theodore Dreiser based his first novel on the life of his sister Emma. In 1883 she ran away to Toronto, Canada with a married man who had stolen money from his employer. The story as told by Dreiser, about Carrie Meeber who becomes the mistress of a traveling salesman, is unapologetically told and created a scandal with its moral transgressions.
The book was initially rejected by many publishers on the grounds that is was "immoral". Indeed, Harper Brothers, the first publisher to see the book, rejected it by saying it was not, "sufficiently delicate to depict without offense to the reader the continued illicit relations of the heroine". • Finally Doubleday and Company published the book in order to fulfill their contract, but Frank Doubleday refused to promote the book. As a result, it sold less than seven hundred copies and Dreiser received a reputation as a naturalist-barbarian.
Sister Carrie sold poorly but was redeemed by writers like Frank Norris and William Dean Howells who saw the novel as a breakthrough in American realism. • However, the publication battles over Sister Carrie caused Dreiser to become depressed, so much so that his brother sent him to a sanitarium for a short while.
Sister Carrie, published in 1900, is one of the best-known story of American Dream, tracing the material rise of Carrie Meeber and the tragic decline of G. W. Hurstwood.
Carrie Meeber, penniless and full of the illusion of ignorance and youth, leaves her rural home to seek work in Chicago. On the train, she becomes acquainted with Charles Drouet, a salesman. In Chicago, she lives with her sister, and work for a time in a shoe factory.
Meager income and terrible working condition oppress her imaginative spirit. After a period of unemployment and loneliness, she accepts Drouet and becomes his mistress. • During his absence, she falls in love with Drouet’s friend Hurstwood, a middle aged, married, comparatively intelligent culture saloon manager. They finally elope. They live together for three years more. Chicago New York
Carrie becomes mature in intellect and emotion, while Hurstwood steadily declines. At last, she thinks him too great a burden and leaves him. Hurstwood sinks lower and lower. After becoming a beggar, he commits suicide, while Carrie becomes a star of musical comedy. In spite of her success, she is lonely and dissatisfied.
The theme in Sister Carrie, a novel written by Theodore Dreiser, is materialism. The theme is primarily personified through Carrie with her desire for a fine home, clothes and everything else money can buy.
Materialism, including the desire for money, is an important theme in Sister Carrie. The materialism is shown mostly through Carrie's character but also through Hurstwood, a man with a respectable life and money, who still wants more and for that reason commits a crime. The city in itself is also a place of materialism, it is a place that offers all kinds of amusements, pleasures and things to buy, but to participate in what the city has to offer one has to have money.
Evaluation • He faced every form of attack that a serious artist could encounter misunderstanding, misrepresentation, artistic isolation and commercial seduction. But he survived to lead the rebellion of the 1900s.
Dreiser has been a controversial figure in American literary history. • His works are powerful in their portrayal of the changing American life, but his style is considered crude. • It is in Dreiser’s works that American naturalism is said to have come of age.
Dreiser’s novels are formless at times and awkwardly written, and his characterization is found deficient and his prose pedestrian and dull, yet his very energy proves to be more than a compensation. • Dreiser’s stories are always solid and intensely interesting with their simple but highly moving characters. Dreiser is good at employing the journalistic method of reiteration to burn a central impression into the reader’s mind.
For a commemorative service in 1947, H. L. Mencken wrote a eulogy in which he stuck by the argument that he had been making for over thirty-five years: despite Dreiser's flaws as a stylist, "the fact remains that he is a great artist, and that no other American of his generation left so wide and handsome a mark upon the national letters. American writing, before and after his time, differed almost as much as biology before and after Darwin. He was a man of large originality, of profound feeling, and of unshakable courage. All of us who write are better off because he lived, worked, and hoped."
Here lies the power and permanence that have made Dreiser one of America’s foremost novelists.
Edwin Arlington Robinson(1869-1935) • Robinson is the first important poet of the twentieth century • Poet of transition • Pulitzer Prize winner for three times
Edwin Arlington Robinson was born on December 22, 1869, in Head Tide, Maine (the same year as W. B. Yeats). His family moved to Gardiner, Maine, in 1870, which renamed "Tilbury Town," became the backdrop for many of Robinson's poems.
Robinson described his childhood as stark and unhappy. • Born and raised in Maine to a wealthy family, he was the youngest of three sons and not groomed to take over the family business. Instead, he pursued poetry since childhood, joining the local poetry society as its youngest member.
He attended Harvard, but his personal life was soon beset by a chain of tragedies that are reflected in his work. His father died, the family went bankrupt, one of his brothers became a morphine addict, and his mother contracted and eventually died from black diphtheria.
Robinson spent two years studied at Harvard University as a special student and his first poems were published in the Harvard Advocate. • Robinson privately printed and released his first volume of poetry, The Torrent and the Night Before, in 1896 at his own expense.
Shortly after, he met a woman, Emma Shepherd, with whom he fell deeply in love, but he was also convinced that marriage and familial responsibilities would hinder his work as a poet, so he introduced her to his eldest brother, who married her.
Unable to make a living by writing, he got a job as an inspector for the New York City subway system. In 1902 he published Captain Craig and Other Poems. • This work received little attention until President Theodore Roosevelt wrote a magazine article praising it and Robinson. • Roosevelt also offered Robinson a sinecure in a U.S. Customs House, a job he held from 1905 to 1910. • Robinson dedicated his next work, The Town Down the River (1910), to Roosevelt.
Robinson's first major success was The Man Against the Sky (1916). • For the last twenty-five years of his life, Robinson spent his summers at the MacDowell Colony of artists and musicians in Peterborough, New Hampshire. • Robinson never married and led a notoriously solitary lifestyle.
In 1922, Robinson received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his Collected Poems: He won it again in 1925 for The Man Who Died Twice and in 1928 for Tristram, the third part of his trilogy. • With his even starting to drink again, claiming that he was doing it to protest Prohibition. He published regularly until the day he died, in New York City in 1935. • He died in New York City on April 6, 1935. new-found fame and fortune, he made a radical change in his lifestyle too, tending to himself and
Works • The Torrent and the Night Before 1896 • The Town Down the River 1910 • The Man Against the Sky 1916 • The Three Taverns 1920 • “Richard Cory” • “Miniver Cheevy” • “Mr. Flood’s Party”
Richard Cory • As "Richard Cory" is only sixteen lines, we scarce need be reminded at the beginning that because of its compactness each word becomes infinitely important. • While stanza one introduces the narrator, more importantly it emphasizes his limited view of Richard Cory. Line one introduces us to Cory while line two establishes that the narrator has only an external view of Cory. From this viewpoint, then, the narrator proceeds to make an assortment of limited value judgments.
Richard Cory resembles a king ("crown," "imperially slim," and "richer than a king") ; obviously the speaker imagery (as well as movement in "sole to crown") reveal his concerns with Cory status and wealth (further emphasized by "glittered"). Charles Morris notes the speaker use of Anglicism ("pavement," "sole to crown," "schooled," and "in fine") pictures Cory as "an English king;" thus, the narrator can be seen expressing prejudices in terms of nationalistic pride
The poet, with a more profound grasp of life than either, shows us only what life itself would show us; we know Richard Cory only through the effect of his personality upon those who were familiar with him, and we take both the character and the motive for granted as equally inevitable. Therein lies the ironic touch, which is intensified by the simplicity of the poetic form in which this tragedy is given expression.
Miniver Cheevy • Here we have a man's life-story distilled into sixteen lines. A dramatist would have been under the necessity of justifying the suicide by some train of events in which Richard Cory's character would have inevitably betrayed him. • A novelist would have dissected the psychological effects of these events upon Richard Cory.
Miniver is the archetypal frustrated romantic idealist, born in the wrong time for idealism. He is close enough to being Robinson himself so that Robinson can smile at him and let the pathos remain unspoken. Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn, Grew lean while he assailed the seasons. He wept that he was ever born, And he had reasons.
"Miniver Cheevy" is generally regarded as a self-portrait. The tone, characteristics sketched by Robinson and shared by the poet and Miniver, and the satiric humor of the poem all lead to that interpretation. • Yet, although as a satire of the poet himself it is a delightful poem, Robinson jousts with a double-edged satiric lance. More than a clever spoof of Robinson as Miniver, the poem satirizes the age and, especially, its literary taste.
In this poem Robinson does not sympathize with Miniver, but lampoons his faults and "laughs at him without reserve in every line.” • The poem's combination of feminine endings and short final stanzaic lines contribute to the satiric effect. • Furthermore, by making his character ludicrous, Robinson makes clear within the context of the poem that Miniver is out of tune with the age.
Mr. Flood's Party • "Mr. Flood's Party" is in some ways much like "Miniver Cheevy" and "Richard Cory." It is a character sketch, a miniature drama with hints and suggestions of the past; its tone is a blend of irony, humor, and pathos. Yet it is, if not more sober, at least mote serious, and a finer poem. It is more richly conceived and executed, and it contains two worlds, a world of illusion and a world of reality.
The theme is the transience of life; the central symbol is the jug. Both the theme and the symbolic import of the jug are announced in the line "The bird is on the wing, the poet says," though only the theme, implicit in the image, is immediately apparent.
The main theme or point of "Mr. Flood's Party" is a consideration of the effects upon human experience of the passage of time. And to the elaboration of this theme virtually all of the major figures of speech or symbols in the poem are functionally and organically related, either directly or indirectly.
Evaluation • Robinson is a "people poet," writing almost exclusively about individuals or individual relationships rather than on more common themes of the nineteenth century. • He exhibits a curious mixture of irony and compassion toward his subjects--most of whom are failures--that allows him to be called a romantic existentialist. He is a true precursor to the modernist movement in poetry.
Robinson is famous for his use of the sonnet and the dramatic monologue. • Many of his poems are on individuals and individual relationships; most of these individuals are failures. • He is traditional in the use of meter; many of his longer works are in blank verse.
No poet ever understood loneliness or separateness better than Robinson or knew the self-consuming furnace that the brain can become in isolation, the suicidal hellishness of it, doomed as it is to feed on itself in answerless frustration, fated to this condition by the accident of human birth, which carries with it the hunger for certainty and the intolerable load of personal recollections.
The early twentieth century saw American poetry experimenting with new forms and content. He was noted for mastery of conventional forms. • He loved the traditional sonnet and quatrain and the often used the old-fashioned language of romantic poetry. But his poetry often focused on the modern problems.