By Martin Bucco
Known as the best writers at the American scene, Dreiser can be referred to as one of many world's most sensible worst writers, with claims that he's an impurist with not anything yet genius. This tale, informed in ugly aspect and with dependable realism, recounts the dilemmas and offerings of a "loser"; we watch him ascend to temptation, fall in transgression, and obtain his acceptable penance.
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In an effective shift of focus, the unswayed governor looks out on the death image of a snowy February landscape. The traumatic aftermath of Clyde's electrocution comes to the reader not through the narrator's typical blunt slicing of chronology, but through the horrified recreation of the death scene in the delicate mind of the Reverend Duncan McMillan. Until the end, Dreiser's novel has documentary appeal, in itself and in its use of documents. Unlike Clyde, Elvira Griffiths, as a crusading mother and correspondent, gets a good press, but in time Clyde's notoriety wanes.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1949. Best single scholarly book on Dreiser. M. Theodore Dreiser. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1970. Pamphlet in American Writers Series, 102. Lucid sketch of life and work. GERBER, PHILLIP L. Theodore Dreiser. , 1964. Twayne's United States Authors Series, 52. Crisp overview of Dreiser's career and works. KAZIN, ALFRED, AND CHARLES SHAPIRO, eds. The Stature of Theodore Dreiser. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1955. Collects best Dreiser criticism between 1900 and 1955.
After Clyde's execution, the tormented McMillan begins to doubt the quality of his own mercy and wisdom; by extension, has he, in fact, merely stood by, watching Clyde drown? Clyde's electrocution--so early hinted at--is oppressively anticipated in this section. The anonymous voice asking a guard if there is any word from Albany is Clyde's last hope. The narrational reference to sundry clergymen who visit amenable prisoners on "murderer's row" prefigures the appearance of the Reverend Duncan McMillan.