Monday, April 20, 2009

The Drieser Conclusion

Current book: An American Tragedy
Pages read: 840-874 (end)

Well, Clyde's dead, his flame snuffed by the hand of the state of New York, after putting up a pretty pathetic fight via trial, appeal, and petition to the governor for clemency. The trial actually wasn't that bad; I expected, as I may have mentioned, that Clyde would break down on the witness stand and confess everything, but he kept it together pretty well. He even protected Sondra's name, regardless of the fact that her corroboration of a small detail may have helped his case. I don't know why he suddenly got all noble, but it was nice to see that he's not completely despicable all the time. Anyway, in the end, it's still not enough, and he's convicted and sentenced to death.

There's a considerable amount of description of both his mother's religious pressure on him to embrace God and accept the burden of his sin (which is a little weird, actually, since she still thinks he's innocent) and his daily life on death row. The religious stuff seems to indicate that Dreiser doesn't much hold with deathbed conversions. The part about death row is pretty staunchly anti-death penalty. There's just a lot of talk about the inaccuracies of bureaucracy and the cruelty of forcing men to watch their comrades walk the last walk down to the electric chair. (As glib as I've been about Clyde getting executed, I was glad to see that's where Drieser went with it. It was a sensitive and fair treatment of a thorny issue, in the end.) What with the pro-abortion and anti-death penalty sentiment, Drieser's a regular progressive. Who would have thought? The book ends with a scene of Clyde's family out proselytizing in the streets, exactly as it started save for the fact that the members of their little group have changed. It's a sort of final warning to the reader that nothing has changed, and that, in fact, anyone can be made into the murderer that Clyde eventually became. American society, look upon your ills!

Well, it was ok. Not 100 best novels of all time material, but more entertaining than I was expecting. Honestly, though, I feel like it's the equivalent, as I've said, of reading John Grisham 80 years in the future. Only with a lot more moralizing.

Also, Drieser really needs to work on the double negatives. I know I mentioned it before, but he sunk to new lows today with "not unakin." Not unakin? I didn't even recognize the word unakin at first because it was so useless and absurd. It was not unakin to hackery.

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