Forgotten Frontiers: Dreiser and the Land of the Free

Forgotten Frontiers: Dreiser and the Land of the Free

Forgotten Frontiers: Dreiser and the Land of the Free

Forgotten Frontiers: Dreiser and the Land of the Free

Excerpt

". . . and every thing shall live whither the river cometh." THE BOOK OF EZEKIEL

". . . I was punished like all who destroy the past for the sake of the future."

SPOON RIVER ANTHOLOGY

The germ of this story had origin in a mood of love of country that would celebrate every American quickened by savagery. Lacking this, people make no monument of their country. They remain content with provinces. Somewhat lacking this, Americans have leaned toward being thin and shrill, since first they pushed away the Indians, and built their own safer homesteads. That is, until today, when, with influx of strangers, Jew and Negro, Mongolian, Syrian, Slovak, Lithuanian, and with pressure of machinery, we have arrived at a jungle of our own. If we succeed in meeting it and creating out of it a human order, or if it destroys us, depends, one might guess, on the measure of primitive force left in us.

In the midst of a ruling tameness, or at least of a tameness dictated by those ruling here toward the last third of the last century, Dreiser was one of those born outside the convention and living outside of it. His books, made in the face of tameness, are touched with wilderness -- the way a sudden rain, an ice storm, April thunder shaking new small leaves in a city square, can strike a dingy nerve-worn city with waywardness. With reason people complain that not always words and syntax follow him. He has let loose shoals of words, they say, some of them to remain in the commonplace of 1880, 1890, 1910, 1920. Yet often detachments of them, and an electric wiring of the structure, have found their way with him into speech, which is drama. They create the shiver of wilderness, the holy ghost of the realist, the wind of . . .

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