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Two literary responses to American society in the early modern era : a comparison of selected novels by Theodore Dreiser and Upton Sinclair in relation to their portrayal of the immigrant, the city, the business tycoon, women, and the problem of labour, 1900-1929

By Mohamed Yazid Bendjeddou


This thesis analyses the responses of Theodore Dreiser and Upton\ud Sinclair to American society in the early modern era through their\ud treatment of the immigrant, the city, the business tycoon, women, and the\ud labour problem. The role of Dreiser and Sinclair as critics of American\ud society has often been dealt with and highly praised. Although the\ud thesis also discusses this particular aspect, its main purpose lies with\ud the comparison of Dreiser's and Sinclair's ideological and literary\ud responses to these socio-economic issues.\ud The study starts with an account of the literary climate of the\ud time. It shows that American literature at the close of the nineteenth\ud century and in the early beginning of the twentieth century stems from\ud the socio-economic and political unrest of the Gilded Age. American\ud writers demonstrated an increasing concern with the evil consequences of\ud the new technological development and felt it was their duty to record\ud the prevailing conditions and express their reactions. They used the\ud realist technique to describe things as they were and adopted naturalism\ud to give a scientific study of their society. As a mirror of American\ud society at the outset of the twentieth century, American fiction\ud reflected the unrest and contradictions of this period and gave a clearer\ud insight into the inner responses of American writers to the new order.\ud It revealed that in spite of a general feeling of anxiety and disillusionment\ud among American writers, individual reactions against the\ud current events were diverse. They varied from an attitude of resignation\ud and pessimistic speculations about America's future to an active desire\ud to break rising capitalism and to reform American society. This analysis\ud of Dreiser's and Sinclair's responses to some of the problems of America\ud has been placed to a large extent in this divided socio-economic and\ud literary climate. Thus while the comparison shows the two writers'\ud strong indictment of American society, it also shows two distinct\ud ideological and literary responses to its upheavals.\ud Then the main body of the study divides into six chapters. Chapter\ud one compares the socio-political and literary views of Dreiser and\ud Sinclair and gives, thus, an idea about the spirit with which they\ud treated their subject matter and the course of their literary works.\ud This chapter also deals with the relationship between Dreiser and\ud Sinclair in an attempt to find traces of a debate between the two writers\ud on the socio-economic and literary situations in America. The following\ud chapters focus on Dreiser's and Sinclair's treatment of the immigrant,\ud the city, the business tycoon, women, and the labour problem. Each of\ud these chapters starts with a brief historical account of the subject of\ud study as a background to the fiction. Then it shows Dreiser's and\ud Sinclair's respective concern with, and experience of, the problem, and\ud moves onto the analysis of their literary treatment of it.\ud The aim of this thesis has been to show that no matter what their\ud artistic, ideological, and philosophical beliefs, American writers in the\ud years of unrest which followed the large-scale industrialisation in their\ud country, were called to assume their social responsibilities and\ud contribute to the cause of social improvement

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