Check out my An American Tragedy book summary and review that I created to help you understand the basics of this great book. An American Tragedy is a 1925 novel by American author Theodore Dreiser. He started the manuscript in the summer of 1920, but abandoned much of that text a year later.

An American Tragedy

It was based on the infamous murder of Grace Brown in 1906 and the trial of her boyfriend. The book entered the public domain in the United States on January 1, 2021.

An American Tragedy book summary :

Clyde Griffiths was raised by poor and devout religious parents to help with his street missionary work. As a young man, Clyde must take a little work as a soda jerk to help his family, then a bellhopper at a prestigious Kansas City hotel.

There, his more sophisticated colleagues introduced him to social drinking and sex with prostitutes. Enjoying her new lifestyle, Clyde Hertens falls in love with Briggs, who drives her to buy him expensive gifts.

When Clyde learns that Hortens goes out with other men, he becomes jealous. Still, she would rather spend money on her sister than on helping her, who had run away, just to get pregnant and was abandoned by her boyfriend.

Clyde's life changed dramatically when his friend Spurser, Clyde, Hortens and other friends drove his boss's car from a secluded meeting place in the country, used without permission, hit and killed a little girl.

Quickly fleeing from the police, Spurser wrecked the car. Everyone except Sparser and his accomplice fled the scene. Clyde left Kansas City, fearing trial as an adjunct to Spurs' crime.

While working as a bellboy at an exclusive club in Chicago, he met his wealthy uncle, Samuel Griffiths, who owns a shirt-collar factory in the fictional city of Licorice, New York. Samuel, guilty of neglecting his weak relationship, offers Clyde a small job in the factory. After that, he promoted Clyde to a small supervisory role.

Gilbert, son of Samuel Griffith, Clyde's immediate caretaker, warns Clyde that as a manager he should not have sex with the women who work under his supervision. At the same time Griffiths pays little attention to Clyde socially.

Clyde was left alone in Liquorgas, leaving him alone. Emotionally weak, Clyde is attracted to Roberta Alden, a poor and innocent farm girl working in his shop, who falls in love with him. Clyde secretly takes Roberta to court, where she eventually becomes pregnant.

At the same time, elegant young socialite Sondra Finchley, the daughter of another Liquorgas factory owner, became interested in Clyde despite her cousin Gilbert's efforts to keep them apart. Clyde's compelling approach makes him popular among the young smart sets of Licorice;

He and Sandra become close and he judges her when he neglects Roberta. Roberta hopes that Clyde will marry her to avoid the shame of an unmarried pregnancy, but Clyde now dreams of marrying Sandra instead.

Failing to get an abortion for Robert, Clyde gives her nothing but unreasonable help for the cost of living when her relationship with Sandra turns up. When Roberta threatens to reveal his relationship with Clyde if he does not marry her, they plan to drown him while he is on the boat. He read a local newspaper report of a boating accident.

Clyde takes Roberta to a canoe at the Adirondacks on the fictional Big Beaton Lake (model of Big Moose Lake in New York) and lined up in a secluded bay. He freezes. Realizing something wrong, Roberta approaches him, and he inadvertently hits her in the face with a camera, shocking her, and accidentally sinks the boat.

Roberta, unable to swim, drowns when Clyde, unwilling to save her, swims ashore. The description implies that the injury was accidental, but the tail of circumstantial evidence left by Clyde, terrified and guilt-ridden, points to the murder.

Local authorities are keen to convict Clyde, in order to create additional evidence against him, and he repeatedly pleads guilty with his misleading and contradictory testimony. Despite a strong (and untrue) defense by two lawyers hired by his uncle, Clyde was convicted, sentenced to death, and after an appeal was rejected, he was sentenced to death in an electric chair.

An American Tragedy book review :

The rock-solid adaptation of Joseph von Sternberg's Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy has been around for a long time. Sergei Eisenstein came to Hollywood to make a film about Dredger's book, but because of his long-running distraction from studio chiefs, he was later fired from the project.

After Von Sternberg took charge and created his version, an angry dredger took legal action to withdraw the movie because he hated the director's freedom with his novel.

On top of all this, George Stevens has created a highly respected version of the material, Slow and Sick in a Place in the Sun, a film whose effects have been blurred by the victim beauty of Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor and destroyed by a misstatement. From Shelley Winters.

Von Sternberg called his work on an American tragedy in his 1965 autobiography, Fun in a Chinese Laundry, a "little finger exercise." But his version trumps A Place in the Sun at every turn and stands out as a full-blown, uncompromising view of temptation and disgusting cowardice.

 Although the film is compressed, it never hurries, and the whole sociological impact of Dreiser's book is captured in the flowing poetic visuals of Von Sternberg. She uses inspiration from her three lead actors: Phillips Holmes, Sylvia Sydney and Frances D.

In A Place in the Sun, George has to choose between a good life with a delicious Angela and a poverty with a crying Alice. It is a tragedy, but it has nothing to do with America. In Sternberg's An American Tragedy, Clyde (Holmes) is seduced by the rich, alluring Sandra (D), but he is stunned by the helpless weakness of his factory girlfriend, Roberta (Sydney).

In A Place in the Sun, Montgomery Clift's character is given virtually no alternative: if only he had to stop, who wouldn't gladly push Shelley Winters from a robot for Elizabeth Taylor? Von Sternberg emphasized that Clyde had a clear choice when he lined up to drown the pregnant Roberta in a lake, and we see that the sweetness and poverty of money and sex Trump, even at the cost of murder.

In A Place in the Sun, when Winters' character falls into the lake, Stevens quickly cuts off so as not to steal sympathy from George. In An American Tragedy, Von Sternberg lets you see Roberta when she drowns and she shows Clyde swimming away from her.

It is quite clear that Clyde decided not to help her. And Sydney, in his most touching performance, is so pleasant that he thinks the man's decision is a real monster. The actress was born in the Bronx and she usually spoke in a hushed, consciously homogeneous voice.

Von Sternberg pulls out his New York accent during his last depressing scene, and it gives his performance an air of revelation that aids the central collision of the lake. Von Sternberg uses inspirational images of water throughout the film, so that when we are locked in the courtroom at the last scene, we feel like something is missing.

 As Clyde's lawyer, von Sternberg diverted our attention with a view of a huge tree outside the window. He emphasizes the beauty of nature in soft focus photography and the ugliness of the man inside speaks for itself. When Clyde is sentenced to death, he turns to his mother and gives her an unforgettable devilish smile.

Like America, he “didn’t get off to a good start” and eventually he was condemned for his moral bankruptcy. Although Von Sternberg dismissed the film, it was related to his best work in non-Marlene Dietrich (The Shanghai Gesture, Anatahan) and was a model of the strict mentality that should have pleased Dredger.

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