Theodore Herman Albert Dreiser (1871–1945) was an American novelist and playwright. He is acclaimed for applying the naturalist genre to the American society of the early twentieth century. His depiction of prevalent sentimental and realist subjects revealed class differences through the lens of urban life.
Born in Terre Haute, Indiana, Dreiser was the ninth child of impoverished German immigrant parents. He attended university for a year before relocating to New York to become a journalist. He was deeply motivated by the works of Charles Darwin and Thomas Huxley, which led to the naturalist bias of Dreiser’s writing.
Dreiser’s first novel, Sister Carrie (1900,) is one of the groundbreaking books of American realism. His description of a young girl’s escape from poverty by using her sexual allure instigated much controversy for Dreiser’s honest treatment of the heroine’s sexuality and determination. Sister Carrie was even suppressed by its publisher.
Dreiser’s masterpiece, An American Tragedy (1925,) is an evocatively-documented narrative about a young man provoked by ambition and dreams of wealth to conspire the murder of his pregnant girlfriend. Based on a real murder case, the novel, through a scrupulous buildup of details and trivial events, is regarded one of the first major psychological studies of an American murderer. An American Tragedy was dramatized in 1926 and 1936, and made into film in 1931 and 1951.