Monday, April 6, 2009

Vehicular manslaughter!

Current book: An American Tragedy
Pages read: 115-216

So, our young hero, Clyde, (who I'm going to go ahead and assess as a total jerk at this point, by the way), enamored of his scarlet woman, Hortense (I forget to comment on the name when I mentioned it the first time, so can I take this moment to say - worst. name. ever.) decides to go on a pleasure trip to the countryside with her and his bellhop friends one night. She's basically promised him sex after the outing in exchange for a fur coat (This fur coat, I might add, is costing him $125 which his pregnant sister needs to pay for the hospital. I mean, yes, it's his money to use as he sees fit, but wow.) Anyway, on the way back from the skating party, the driver of the car, one of the other bellhops, hits and kills an eleven-year-old girl and then drives off, eluding the police. He's so desperate to remain unseen, however, that he turns off the car's headlights and ends up crashing the car and injuring Hortense and several of the others, but neither himself nor Clyde. Clyde abandons the car, his friends, and his girlfriend and runs off. One of his friends rats everyone out, and Clyde eventually leaves the city and takes up a nomadic existence as a dishwasher and bellhop in various American cities. Later, he meets his uncle, a successful businessman who runs a collar manufacturing business, and wheedles a job out of him at the factory. His cousin, Gilbert, is his supervisor and justifiably annoyed by his lack of skills, so his first job is on the collar-shrinking floor - in other words, menial labor in poor conditions. That's where he is now, but I suspect he'll be working his way up the nepotistic ladder anytime now.

Surprisingly, the plot is moving along pretty well. I mean, a hit-and-run accident and fugitive existence across America? That's exciting stuff. The ridiculous moralizing, however, has continued apace and is as obnoxious and heavy-handed as ever. I wonder, really, if Drieser is mocking his contemporaries. It seems as though he must be making a commentary on the cultural understanding of morality rather than trying to inculcate that morality in his readers. I hope. I'll be better able to assess that when I see how things come out for Clyde and his sister. I might be giving Drieser too much credit. But as I recall, dimly, through the mists of 19th Century American Literature in the spring of junior year of college, Sister Carrie was pretty sardonic, so this might be, too.


  1. Haven't read Dreiser and have no intention of doing so. Is the tragedy that, having so many choices, he is able to make none? (Clyde) Or is the point that this "tragedy" is American, as opposed to European, Asian,etc?

  2. I think the tragedy is that he's an idiot who keeps getting himself in trouble. But I could be wrong.



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