Theodore Dreiser’s Realistic Portrayal of Life in America

Approbation for Theodore Dreiser as a literary pioneer has been loathing at best. Dreiser has been castigated for his longwinded, unstylish style and crude manner. American writer and literary critic Alfred Kazin writes in his introduction to The Stature of Theodore Dreiser,

At a time when the one quality which so many American writers have in common is their utter harmlessness, Dreiser makes painful reading. The others you can take up without being involved in the least. They are “literature”—beautiful, stylish literature. You are left free to think not of the book you are reading but of the author, and not even of the whole man behind the author, but just of his cleverness, his sensibility, his style. Dreiser gets under your skin and you can’t wait to get him out again; he stupefies with reality.

Dreiser treated popular sentimental and realist subjects with a refreshing lack of moralizing. Philip L. Gerber, Professor of English at the State University of New York at Brockport, observed,

Dreiser was the first American to portray with truth and power our modern world of commerce and mechanization, the first to portray the dismal depersonalization of the individual which results from urbanization and intensifying societal pressure to conform, the first to draw us frankly and grimly as a nation of status-seekers.

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