Transition Phase of the American Society in An American Tragedy: A Naturalistic Approach

©2015 Textbook 86 Pages


In his masterpiece An American Tragedy, the naturalist writer Theodore Dreiser depicts different pains of American society as it was stepping into the modern age. The youths from the lower rung of the society detested the traditional norms and values and sought ways of transformation in the job market and opportunities brought about by industrialization. However, their dreams, ambitions and efforts to ascend the social ladder ended up in a tragedy.
Dreiser, the pioneer of naturalism in the American literary arena effectively depicts such phenomena through the life of his protagonist, Clyde. Brought up in a strict religious family characterized by abject poverty, Clyde struggles to overcome the life of deprivation. However, he does not possess the mental ability and skills to overcome the difficulties of life and succumbs to vicious circle of circumstances.
Whereas realism portrays events and incidents of a society in a realistic manner naturalists go beyond realism to come up with the causes and explanations behind a real event. By relying on psychology, chemism, mechanism and social forces, Dreiser portrays how human life is devoid of free will. Dreiser effectively shows that lack of education, religiously stringent home environment and pangs of poverty throughout his childhood had charted out a gloomy fate for Clyde, who heads towards the death bed and is executed at the prime of youth.
In his works, Dreiser often uses animal metaphors and similes to effect his point that human beings are no different from animals for their lack of free will and, are prey to circumstances.
Though at the face value the school of naturalism seems gloomy, dark and negative it does offer optimism and hope. Naturalists believe on evolution and hence, human beings can improve themselves and can learn to overcome beastly nature. In the due process of evolution they can learn to live by reason instead of being ruled by instincts. Thus, human beings have the potential to achieve a similar ideal world as envisioned by spiritualism.
Works inspired by naturalism also impart a guiding lesson to the society that the society and its stake holders are responsible for existing social ills/evils. In the case of the tragic hero, it was the social structure that denied access to education and better opportunities for poor youths to embrace a good life.


Type of Edition
ISBN (Softcover)
File size
352 KB
Publication date
2015 (May)
Naturalism American society free will evolution poverty Victorian unconscious

Title: Transition Phase of the American Society in An American Tragedy: A Naturalistic Approach