BORN: August 27, 1871, Terre Haute, Indiana
DIED: December 18, 1945, Hollywood, California
IDENTIFICATION: Early twentieth-century writer of novels, plays, poetry, and nonfiction, noted as a major figure in American literary naturalism.
As a leading exponent of literary naturalism in the United States, Theodore Dreiser wrote novels, short stories, plays, collections of poetry, and more than a dozen volumes of nonfiction. His exploration of the contrasts and inequalities between the rich and the poor was achieved through a realism that shocked and angered those wedded to the so-called [genteel tradition] that had pervaded American literature during the nineteenth century. Dreiser, who learned his trade as a journalist, wrote about what he knew best, basing many of his characters upon members of his own immediate family. His experience as a reporter taught him to record what he saw accurately and present it clearly.
Although Dreiser has never received his due as a major American writer, he is recognized in various works for having turned the tide of American literature when many Americans complacently accepted the robber-baron tactics of great industrialists and the oppression of working people. He also demonstrated that sexuality is natural to the human condition and that those who yield to their sexual urges are following the laws of nature.