Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy - 10 weeks
S 2020


An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, published in 1925, is a complex and compassionate account of the life and death of a young antihero named Clyde Griffiths. It has often been called American's Crime and Punishment. The novel begins with Clyde’s blighted background, recounts his path to success, and culminates in his apprehension, trial, and execution for murder. Tracing the psychic and social consequences of inequality, An American Tragedy was voted into the 16th spot on the Modern Reader's Library Top 100 novels. 

 Based on a thinly disguised true story, this important novel is not only a biting portrait of the American dream gone sour but also a universal story about the stresses of urbanization, modernization, and alienation.

It was a watershed book that inspired the creation of a number of American tragedies - Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940), Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (1966), and Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song (1979) among others. The story has also been made into an opera and a film (A Place in the Sun, 1951). We will study the film in the last session.

The book is 856 pages.

Weekly Topics

1.  Introduction: style, legacy, origin of plot; p. 1-53

2.  p. 53-154

3.  p.154-256

4.  p. 256-354

5.  p. 354-450

6.  p. 450-558

7.  p. 558-656

8.  p. 656-771

9.  p. 771-856

10.  Film: A Place in the Sun 


Dreiser, Theodore. An American Tragedy. Signet Classics. 1964/2010.

Film:   A Place in the Sun. 1951.