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Naturalism's Nation: Toward An American Tragedy

Naturalism's Nation: Toward An American Tragedy American Literature, Volume 72, Number 1, March 2000. Copyright © 2000 by Duke University Press. Tseng 2000.2.24 11:09 5995 AL 72:1 / sheet 158 of 246 154 American Literature the old problem, still central to James at the turn of the century, of what differentiated the American from the European. As numerous critics have observed, naturalist fiction translates determinist assumptions about the human subject into literary problems, most persistently, one could argue, by refusing to describe persons as autonomous individuals capable of moral choice.2 I won’t dispute that proposition, but I want to suggest that as Dreiser took up the burden of saying something about the nation, the values that structured that deterministic framework shifted. If Dreiser’s two Cowperwood novels of the nineteen-teens, The Financier and The Titan, follow a classic naturalist trajectory in linking the ‘‘success-dream’’ of economic mobility to the ‘‘reality’’ of social Darwinism, An American Tragedy begins to thematize a new narrative economy based on spectacular relationships and the value of visibility within them. In this new economy, selfhood is conferred by the public rather than confirmed by ‘‘the accumulation of wealth implying power, social superiority, even social domination.’’ 3 The novel presents this public http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png American Literature Duke University Press

Naturalism's Nation: Toward An American Tragedy

American Literature , Volume 72 (1) – Mar 1, 2000

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Publisher
Duke University Press
Copyright
Copyright 2000 by Duke University Press
ISSN
0002-9831
eISSN
1527-2117
DOI
10.1215/00029831-72-1-153
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

American Literature, Volume 72, Number 1, March 2000. Copyright © 2000 by Duke University Press. Tseng 2000.2.24 11:09 5995 AL 72:1 / sheet 158 of 246 154 American Literature the old problem, still central to James at the turn of the century, of what differentiated the American from the European. As numerous critics have observed, naturalist fiction translates determinist assumptions about the human subject into literary problems, most persistently, one could argue, by refusing to describe persons as autonomous individuals capable of moral choice.2 I won’t dispute that proposition, but I want to suggest that as Dreiser took up the burden of saying something about the nation, the values that structured that deterministic framework shifted. If Dreiser’s two Cowperwood novels of the nineteen-teens, The Financier and The Titan, follow a classic naturalist trajectory in linking the ‘‘success-dream’’ of economic mobility to the ‘‘reality’’ of social Darwinism, An American Tragedy begins to thematize a new narrative economy based on spectacular relationships and the value of visibility within them. In this new economy, selfhood is conferred by the public rather than confirmed by ‘‘the accumulation of wealth implying power, social superiority, even social domination.’’ 3 The novel presents this public

Journal

American LiteratureDuke University Press

Published: Mar 1, 2000

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