موضوع: American Literary Naturalism 2011-08-09, 19:38
American literary naturalism has almost always been viewed with hostility. During its early years the movement was associated with Continental licentiousness and impiety and was regarded as a literature foreign to American values and interests. "We must stamp out this breed of Norrises," a reviewer of McTeague cried in 1899. 1 In our own time, though antagonism to naturalism is expressed more obliquely, it is as deeply rooted. A typical discussion of the movement is frequently along the following lines.2 The critic will examine the sources of naturalism in late nineteenth-century scientism, in Zola, and in post-Civil War industrial expansion. He will note that to a generation of American writers coming of age in the 1890s the mechanistic and materialistic foundations of contemporary science appeared to be confirmed by American social conditions and to have been successfully applied to the writing of fiction by Zola. But he will also note that Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, and Theodore Dreiser were often muddled in their thinking and inept in their fiction, and he will attribute these failures to their unfortunate absorption of naturalistic attitudes and beliefs. Our typical critic will then discover a second major flowering of naturalism in the fiction of James T. Farrell, John Steinbeck, and John Dos Passos in the 1930s. He will remark that scientism has been replaced by Marxism and that the thinking of this generation of naturalists is not so much confused as doctrinaire, but his account of their work will still be governed by the assumption that naturalism is a regrettable strain in modern American literary history. Indeed, the underlying metaphor in most accounts of American fiction is that naturalism is a kind of taint or discoloration, without which the writer would be more of an artist and through which the critic must penetrate if he is to discover the essential nature and worth of the writer. So those writers who most clearly appear to be naturalists, such as Dreiser and Farrell, are almost always praised for qualities that are distinct from their naturalism. We are thus told that Dreiser's greatness is not in his naturalism 3 and that he is most of all an artist when not a philosopher.4 And so the obvious and powerful thread of naturalism in such major figures as Hemingway, Faulkner, and (closer to our own time) Saul Bellow is almost always dismissed as an irrelevant and distracting characteristic of their work. This continuing antagonism to naturalism has several root causes. One of the clearest is that many critics find naturalistic belief morally repugnant. But whereas earlier critics stated openly their view that naturalism was invalid because man was as much a creature of divine spirit as animal substance, the more recent critic is apt to express his hostility indirectly by claiming that naturalistic novelists frequently violate the deterministic creed that supposedly informs their work and are therefore inconsistent or incoherent naturalists. On one hand, this concern with philosophical consistency derives from the naturalist writer's interest in ideas and is therefore a justifiable critical interest. On the other, there seems little doubt that many critics delight in seeking out the philosophically inadequate in naturalistic fiction because man is frequently portrayed in this fiction as irredeemably weak and deluded and yet as not responsible for his condition. It is the rare work of fiction of any time in which threads of free will and determinism do not interweave in a complex pattern that can be called incoherent or inconsistent; on strictly logical grounds man either has free will or he does not. Yet it is principally the naturalistic novel that is damned for this quality, which suggests that it is the weighting of this inconsistency toward an amoral determinismnot its mere presencethat is at stake.5 Another source of the hostility of modern critics to the naturalistic novel lies in recent American political history. American naturalism of the 1890s was largely apolitical, but in the 1930s the movement was aligned with the left wing in American politics and often specifically with the Communist party. In the revulsion against the party that swept the literary community during the 1940s and 1950s, it was inevita- ble that naturalistic fiction of the 1930s would be found wanting because the naturalists of that decade, it was now seen, had so naively embraced some form of communist belief. The most influential critical discussions of American naturalism during the 1940s and 1950sPhilip Rahv's "Notes on the Decline of Naturalism," Malcolm Cowley's" 'Not Men': A Natural History of American Naturalism," and Lionel Trilling's "Reality in America" 6have as an underlying motive a desire to purge American literature and its historiography of an infatuation with an alien and destructive political ideal. A final reason for the antagonism toward naturalistic fiction is that several generations of academic critics have been attracted by an increasingly refined view of the aesthetic complexity of fiction. They have believed that a novel must above all be organicthat is, be the product of a romantic imaginationand they have found principally in the work of Hawthorne, Melville, Faulkner, and to a lesser extent James, that enlargement of metaphor into symbol and that interplay of irony and ambivalence that bring fiction close to the complex indirection of a metaphysical lyric. Stephen Crane is the only naturalistic writer whose fiction satisfies these expectations, and his work is generally held to be uncharacteristic of the nonartistry of a movement more adequately represented by Dreiser.7 I do not wish to suggest by this brief survey of the critical biases that have led to the inadequate examination of American naturalism that there are not naturalistic novels muddled in conception and inept in execution. But just as we have long known that the mind-set of an early nineteenth-century critic would little prepare him to come to grips with the essential nature and form of a romantic poem, so we are coming to realize that a generation of American critics has approached American literary naturalism with beliefs about man and art that have frequently distorted rather than cast light upon the object before them. Theodore Dreiser is the author whose work and career most fulfill the received notion of American naturalism; indeed, it is often difficult to determine the demarcation between literary history and critical biography in general discussions of American naturalism, so completely is Dreiser as thinker and writer identified with the movement in America. It would be instructive, therefore, to test the example of Dreiserto note, initially and briefly, those characteristics of his career and work that lead us to describe him as a naturalist; and then, more fully, to examine some of the naturalistic elements in his fiction. But unlike so much of the criticism of naturalism I have been describing, I do not wish to undertake this test with the assumption that Dreiser's fiction is confused in theme and form because he is not a consistent naturalist or that his work is best when he is least naturalistic. In short, I do not wish to consider his naturalism as an unfortunate excrescence. Rather, I want to see how his naturalistic predispositions work in his fiction and whether or not they work successfully. Dreiser was born an outsider. His parents were of Catholic, German-speaking immigrant stock and throughout Dreiser's youth the large family was agonizingly poor. As a young man Dreiser sought the success and position that his parents had lacked and also shed the religious and moral beliefs which, he believed, had shackled them. While a young reporter in Pittsburgh in the early 1890s, he found his deepest responses to life confirmed by his reading of Herbert Spencer and Balzac. There were, he believed, no discernible supernatural agencies in life, and man was not the favored creature of divine guidance but an insignificant unit in a universe of natural forces. Although these forces, whether biological or social, were the source of racial progress, they often crushed the individual within their mechanistic processes. Like many of his generation, Dreiser found that the observed realities of American society supported this theory of existence. The mills and libraries of Pittsburgh were evidence of progress, but the lives of the immigrant foundry workersto say nothing of the lives of Dreiser's own errant sisters and brothersappeared dwarfed and ephemeral compared with the grinding and impersonal power of a vast economic system and a great city. Yet the city itself, as Balzac had amply demonstrated, was exciting and alluring, and not all were crushed who sought to gain its wonders. In Sister Carrie Dreiser was to write, "Among the forces which sweep and play throughout the universe, untutored man is but a wisp in the wind." 8 But though Hurstwood is swept away by these forces, and though Carrie's career is that of a storm-tossed ship, Carrie survives and indeed grows in understanding by the close of the novel. So accompanying Dreiser's endorsement of an amoral determinism there exists a disconcerting affirmation of the traditionally elevating in lifeof Carrie, for example, as a figure of "emotional greatness," that is, of imaginative power. Forty-five years after Sister Carrie Dreiser joined the Communist party while celebrating in his last two novels the intuitive mysticism at the heart of Quaker and Hindu belief. Here, in brief, at the two poles of his career and work is the infamous intellectual muddle of Dreiser and, by extension, of naturalism itself. And this muddle appears to be matched by a corresponding lack of control and firmness in fictional technique. Dreiser documents his social scene with a pseudoscientific detachment yet overindulges in personal philosophical disquisitions; he attempts to write a "fine" style but produces journalistic cliché and awkwardness. So in most important ways Dreiser fulfills the conventional definition of the American naturalist. All the major paradoxes are present: his identification with the "outsider," which was to lead to a contemptuous view of the mainstream of middle-class American life, yet his lifelong worship of "success"; his acceptance of a "scientific" mechanistic theory of natural law as a substitute for traditional views of individual insight and moral responsibility, yet his affirmation of many of these traditional views; and his deep response to a major European novelist, including the form of his fiction, yet his seeming neglect of style and form. I cannot hope to discuss these major characteristics of Dreiser as a naturalist as each appears in his eight novels. But I can pursue the vital naturalistic theme of mechanistic determinism in two of his principal novels, Jennie Gerhardt and An American Tragedy, and thereby reach toward at least a modest understanding of the example of Dreiser.9 Dreiser began Jennie Gerhardt in early 1901, soon after the publication of Sister Carrie. He wrote most of the novel during the next two years, though he did not complete it until late 1910. Like Sister Carrie, Jennie Gerhardt is about a girl from a poor family who has several sexual affairs with men of higher station but who emerges from her adventures not only unsullied but also elevated in character and insight. The novel differs from Sister Carrie primarily in Dreiser's characterization of Jennie and of Lester Kane, the principal man in Jennie's life. Kane, at least on the surface, is a more powerful, successful, and contemplative figure than Hurstwood, and Jennie differs from Carrie in that she is a warm and generous giver rather than a taker. In the course of the novel, Jennie is seduced first by Senator Brander, by whom she has a child, Vesta, and then by Lester Kane. She and Kane are attracted to each other by a powerful natural "affinity" and they live together contentedly for several years. But because Lester is gradually forced to accept that a permanent union with Jennie would adversely affect his business career and the comfortable certainties of his social and family life, they do not marry. Eventually they part, Lester marries Letty Gerald, a woman of his own class, and Jennie suffers the death of both her father and Vesta. One of the major scenes in Jennie Gerhardt is Lester's visit to Jennie after the death of Vesta. Deeply depressed by Vesta's death and by his realization that he erred in leaving Jennie, Lester tells her, "it isn't myself that's important in this transaction [that is, life itself] apparently; the individual doesn't count much in the situation. I don't know whether you see what I'm driving at, but all of us are more or less pawns. We're moved about like chessmen by circumstances over which we have no control." 10 This famous pronouncement, which has supplied several generations of literary historians with a ubiquitous image for the philosophical center of American naturalism, requires careful analysis both in its immediate context and in relation to the novel as a whole if it is to be properly understood. Whatever the general truth of Lester's words, they represent a personal truth. His pawn image expresses both his sense of ineffectuality in the face of the central dilemma of his life and a covert supernaturalism that has characterized his thought throughout the novel despite his overt freethinking. Earlier he had attributed his difficulties merely to bad luck. But by the time he and Jennie separate, he has elevated and generalized "fate" into a specific force that is at once social, supernatural, and (as far as he is concerned) malevolent: It was only when the storms set in and the winds of adversity blew and he found himself facing the armed force of convention that he realized he might be mistaken as to the value of his personality, that his private desires and opinions were as nothing in the face of a public conviction; that he was wrong. The race spirit, or social avatar, the "Zeitgeist" as the Germans term it, manifested itself as something having a system in charge, and the organization of society began to show itself to him as something based on possibly a spiritual, or, at least, supernatural counterpart. (373-74) Lester's speculative statement that men are but pawns in the control of circumstances is thus in part an explanation and a defense of his own conduct. In particular, it is a disguised apology to Jennie for his failure to marry her when he could have done so. But it is also a powerful means of characterizing Lester. Throughout his life he had lived for the moment and had postponed making decisions about the direction of his life. But the decisionless flow of time contained an impetus of events that constituted an implicit and irreversible decision, and when Lester at last awoke to the fact that his life had been decided for him, he bitterly and angrily blamed fate. Because Lester is a perceptive and on the whole an honest figure, his belief that men are pawns involves more than a rationalization of his own indecisiveness and ineffectuality. His belief also aptly characterizes social reality as that reality has been dramatized in the novel. The pressure of circumstances on Lester in his relationship with Jennie has indeed been intense, from their initial meeting within the convention of a seductiona convention that appeared to preclude marriageto the later opposition of Lester's personal, business, and social worlds to the continuation of the relationship. In a passage cut from Chapter XI of the final holograph of the novel, Dreiser himself, as narrator, echoed Lester's attribution of superhuman powers to social force. "The conventions in their way," he wrote, "appear to be as inexorable in their workings as the laws of gravitation and expansion. There is a drift to society as a whole which pushes us on in a certain direction, careless of the individual, concerned only with the general result." 11 In his final position as one deeply puzzled by the insignificance of the individual, Lester therefore reflects a persistent strain in Dreiser's thought. Before making his pawn speech to Jennie, Lester had "looked down into Dearborn Street, the world of traffic below holding his attention. The great mass of trucks and vehicles, the counter streams of hurrying pedestrians, seemed like a puzzle. So shadows march in a dream" (400). The scene effectively images both Lester's and Dreiser's belief that life is a helter-skelter of activity without meaning either for its observers or for the "shadows" who give it motion. As a man aware of the direction of modern thought, Lester is able to give this view of life an appropriate philosophical framework. In the years that pass after Vesta's death, his response to life, Dreiser tells us, becomes "decidedly critical": He could not make out what it was all about. In distant ages a queer thing had come to pass. There had started on its way in the form of evolution a minute cellular organism which had apparently reproduced itself by division, had early learned to combine itself with others, to organize itself into bodies, strange forms of fish, animals, and birds, and had finally learned to organize itself into man. Man, in his part, composed as he was of self-organizing cells, was pushing himself forward into comfort and different aspects of existence by means of union and organization with other men. Why? Heaven only knew. . .. Why should he complain, why worry, why speculate?the world was going steadily forward of its own volition, whether he would or no. Truly it was. (404-5) It must not be assumed, however, that Lester's pessimistic response to the "puzzle" of man's role in a mechanistic world is Dreiser's principal and only philosophical theme in Jennie Gerhardt. For Jennie, though not Lester's equal in formal knowledge or in experience, is his equal in the "bigness" of her responsiveness to the underlying reality of life, and she discovers not only puzzlement and frustration in life but also an ineradicable beauty. Dreiser therefore follows his comments on Lester's critical outlook with an account of Jennie's final evaluation of life. This evaluation, because of its source and its strategic location, has significance equal to Lester's beliefs. Jennie, Dreiser writes, had never grasped the nature and character of specialized knowledge. History, physics, chemistry, botany, geology, and sociology were not fixed departments in her brain as they were in Lester's and Letty's. Instead there was the feeling that the world moved in some strange, unstable way. Apparently no one knew clearly what it was all about. People were born and died. Some believed that the world had been made six thousand years before; some that it was millions of years old. Was it all blind chance or was there some guiding intelligencea God? Almost in spite of herself she felt that there must be somethinga higher power which produced all the beautiful thingsthe flowers, the stars, the trees, the grass. Nature was so beautiful! If at times life seemed cruel, yet this beauty still persisted. The thought comforted her; she fed upon it in her hours of secret loneliness. (405) Jennie and Lester's complementary views of life represent Dreiser's own permanent unresolved conception of the paradox of existence. To both figures the world "was going steadily forward of its own volition," apparently guided by some unknowable power. Individuals counted for little in this process, but individuals of different temperaments might respond to the mechanism of life in different ways. One kind of temperament might be bitter and despairing, another might affirm the beauty that was inseparable from the inexplicable mystery of life. It has frequently been noted that Dreiser himself held both views at different stages of his careerthat he stressed a cruelly indifferent mechanistic universe in Hey Rub-a-Dub-Dub (1920) and a mechanistic world of beauty in The Bulwark (1946). It has not been as fully realized that he held the two positions simultaneously as well as consecutively and that he gave each position equal weight and dramatic expression in Jennie Gerhardt without resolving their "discrepancy." For to Dreiser there was no true discrepancy; there was only the reality of distinctive temperaments that might find truth in each position or, as in his own case, of a temperament that might find an element of truth in both. Dreiser's infamous philosophical inconsistency is thus frequently a product of his belief that life is a "puzzle" to which one can respond in different ways, depending on one's makeup and experience. The naturalistic "philosophy" of deterministic mechanism in Dreiser's novels is therefore usually secondary, within the fictional dynamics of each novel, to the role of the concept as a metaphor of life against which various temperaments can define themselves. Or, to put the matter another way, Lester's belief in one kind of mechanistic philosophy and Jennie's in another are less significant fictionally than the depiction of Jennie as a woman of feeling and of Lester as a man of speculative indecision. But it should also be clear that in attributing a secondary fictional role to the mechanistic center of Jennie Gerhardt I am not saying that the philosophy muddles the novel or that the novel is successful for reasons other than the philosophy. I am rather saying that the philosophy and the fiction are one and inseparable. As a late nineteenth-century novelist, Dreiser absorbed and used naturalistic ideas. But he did not do so, at his best, in a way that can be distinguished from his absorption of an under- standing of character and of experience in general. It is this unity of understanding and of purpose that gives Dreiser's novels their power. At his most successful, Dreiser embodies in his novels the permanent in life not despite the ideas of his own time but because, like most major artists, he uses the ideas of his own time as living vehicles to express the permanent in man's character and in man's vision of his condition and fate. Most students of American literature are aware that Dreiser derived the central plot and much of the detail of An American Tragedy from the Chester Gillette-Grace Brown murder case of 1906. Less commonly known is that although Dreiser's principal sourcethe reports of Gillette's trial in the New York Worldpresented him with a wealth of detail about Gillette's life in Cortland (the Lycurgus of the novel) leading up to the murder of Grace Brown, it offered only a few hints about Gillette's experiences before his arrival in that city. Thus, Book One of An American Tragedy, which deals with Clyde's early life in Kansas City, is in a sense ''invented." Such major events of this portion of the novel as Clyde's sister's pregnancy, his job at the Green-Davidson Hotel, his longing for Hortense, and the automobile accident that concludes the book have no source in Gillette's life. Because Dreiser in Book One is "inventing" a background for Clyde it is possible to view this section of the novel as the application to fiction of a simplistic deterministic ethic in which the author crudely manufactures hereditary and environmental conditions that will irrevocably propel the protagonist toward his fate. So, in Book One, we are offered Clyde's weak and fuzzy-minded father and coldly moralistic mother. We discover that Clyde is a sensitive youth who longs for the material and sensual pleasures of life but lacks the training, strength, and guile necessary to gain them. Ergo: weakness and desire on the one hand and irresistible attraction yet insurmountable barriers on the other will resolve themselves into an American tragedy. Dreiser in this opening section of the novel is indeed seeking to introduce the deterministic theme that a young man's nature and early experience can solidify into an inflexible quality of mind that will lead to his destruction. Yet once said, this observation is as useless to criticism as the equally true statement that King Lear is about the failure and triumph of love. For Dreiser in Book One of An American Tragedy is not a simple and simpleminded naturalist applying a philosophical theory to documentary material but rather a subtle fictional craftsman creating out of the imagined concrete details of a life an evocative image of the complex texture of that life. Clyde's desire for "beauty and pleasure" 12 in Book One is in direct conflict with his parents' religious beliefs and activities, and thus Clyde's dominant impulse from early boyhood is to escape. At fifteen he makes his first major break from his parents' inhospitable mission existence and toward the life he desires when he gets a job as assistant clerk at a drugstore soda fountain. This position, with its accompanying "marvels" of girls, lively talk, and "snappy" dressing, offers a deeply satisfying alternative to the drab religiosity of Clyde's boyhood. He recognizes the appeal of this new world "in a revealing flash": "You bet he would get out of that now. He would work and save his money and be somebody. Decidedly this simple and yet idyllic com- pound of the commonplace had all the luster and wonder of a spiritual transfiguration, the true mirage of the lost and thirsting and seeking victim of the desert" (I, 26). Dreiser's summary of Clyde's response to the lively worldliness of the soda fountain introduces a theme, and its imagery and tone, that pervades the entire novel. Clyde's needhis thirsthas the power to transform "spiritually" the tawdry and superficial world of the drugstore into the wondrous and exalted. So frequent and compelling is Dreiser's use of "dream" in connection with Clyde's longing that we sometimes fail to realize that his desires also have a basically religious context in which his ''dream" is for a "paradise" of wealth and position ruled by a "goddess" of love. Clyde at this moment of insight at the soda fountain is truly converted. He has rejected the religion of his parents only to find a different kind of heaven to which he pledges his soul with all the fervor and completeness of his parents' belief. Yet like their "cloudy romance" of a heaven above, Clyde's vision of a "paradise" below is a "true mirage." He has thus not really escaped from his parents, and his initiation into life at the soda fountain and later at the Green-Davidson is no true initiation, for he has merely shifted the nebulous and misdirected longings of his family from the unworldly to the worldly. He still has the naïveté, blindness, and absolute faith of his parents' enthusiasm and belief. And because he is, like them, a true believer, he does not learn from experience and he does not change. Clyde's job as a bellhop at the Green-Davidson is both an extension and an intensification of his conversion experience at the soda fountain. To Clyde, the hotel is "so glorious an institution" (I, 33), a response which at once reflects the religiosity of its sexual attractions and their embodiment in a powerful social form. The Green-Davidson has both an intrinsic and an extrinsic sexuality. So deep and powerful is Clyde's reaction to its beauty and pleasureto its moral freedom, material splendor, and shower of tipsthat he conceives of the hotel as a youth does his first love. The Green-Davidson to Clyde is softness, warmth, and richness; it has a luxuriousness that he associates with sensuality and positionthat is, with all that is desirable in life: "The soft brown carpet under his feet; the soft, cream-tinted walls; the snow-white bowl lights set in the ceilingall seemed to him parts of a perfection and a social superiority which was almost unbelievable" (I, 42). "And there was music al-ways-from somewhere" (I, 33). Clyde thus views the hotel both as "a realization of paradise" and as a miraculous gift from Aladdin's lamp, two images of fulfillment that, in their "spiritualizing" of his desires, appropriately constitute the center of his dream life. But the hotel has a harsh and cruel sexuality in addition to its soft, warm, and "romantic" sensuality. Older women and homosexuals prey on the bellhops, who themselves frequent whores, and the hotel offers many instances of lascivious parties on the one hand and young girls deserted by their seducers on the other. Clyde, because of his repressed sexuality, cannot help responding to this aspect of sex with "fascination" despite his fears and anxieties. The sexual reality of the hotel is thus profoundly ambivalent. Clyde longs above all for the "romance" of sex and for warmth and a sense of union, but the overt sexuality that he in fact encounters is that of hardness, trickery, and deceitof use and discarding. Both Clyde's unconscious need and his overt mode of fulfillment join in his response to Hortense. "Your eyes are just like soft, black velvet," he tells her. "'They're wonderful.' He was thinking of an alcove in the Green-Davidson hung with black velvet." (I, 112). Clyde unconsciously desires "softness" and later finds it in Roberta, but he is also powerfully drawn by the "hardness'' of wealth and sexual power that he is to find in Sondra and that he first encounters at the Green-Davidson. Thus he endows Hortense with an image of warm softness that reflects his muddled awareness of his needs. For though Hortense is properly associated in his mind with the Green-Davidson because of their similar sexual "hardness," she is incorrectly associated with an image of softness and warmth. Clyde's belief that the Green-Davidson is a "glorious . . . institution" also represents his acceptance of the hotel as a microcosm of social reality. So he quickly learns that to get ahead in the worldthat is, to ingratiate himself with his superiors and to earn large tipshe must adopt various roles. So he accepts the hierarchy of power present in the elaborate system of sharing tips that functions in the hotel. So he realizes that he must deceive his parents about his earnings if he is to have free use of the large sums available to him as an eager novice in this institution. And because the world of the Green-Davidsonboth within the hotel and as hotel life extends out into Clyde's relations with the other bellhops and with Hortensealso contains Clyde's introduction into sexual desire and sexual warfare, he assumes that the ethics of social advance and monetary gain are also those of love. Thus, when in Lycurgus he aspires to the grandeur of Sondra and her set, his actions are conditioned by an ethic derived from the Green-Davidsonthat hypocrisy, dishonesty, role-playing, and sexual deceit and cruelty are the ways in which one gains what one desires and that these can and should be applied to his relationship with Roberta. The major point to be made about Dreiser's rendering of the Green-Davidson Hotel as an important experience in Clyde's life is that we respond to his account not as an exercise in determinism but as a subtle dramatization of the ways in which a distinctive temperamenteager, sensitive, emotional, yet weak and directionlessinteracts with a distinctive social setting that supplies that temperament with both its specific goals and its operative ethic. Again, as in Jennie Gerhardt, there is a naturalistic center to this fictional excellence. It is correct to say that Clyde's life is determined by his heredity and environment. But, once more, as in Jennie Gerhardt, the naturalism and the fictional strength are inseparable. The naturalism is not an obstacle to the excellence but the motive thrust and center of the bedrock fictional portrayal of how people interact with their worlds and why they are what they are. To sum up. One of the major conventions in the study of American naturalism is that naturalistic belief is both objectionable in its own right and incompatible with fictional quality. But the example of Dreiser reveals that the strength often found in a naturalistic novel rests in the writer's commitment to the distinctive form of his naturalistic beliefs and in his ability to transform these beliefs into acceptable character and event. We are moved by the story of Jennie and Lester and by the account of Clyde's career not because they are independent of Dreiser's deepest beliefs but rather because they are successful narratives of man's impotence in the face of circumstances by a writer whose creative imagination was all of a piece. Until we are willing to accept that the power of a naturalistic writer resides in his naturalism, we will not profit from the example of Dreiser.