Critical Essays Dreiser's Style


The adjective "elephantine" has been reserved by critics exclusively to describe the style of Dreiser, "the world's worst great writer." It is generally awkward and ponderous; it lacks precision and it moves with a lumbering gait. Even Dreiser's sincerest admirers admit that his style is atrocious, his sentences chaotic, his grammar and syntax faulty. His wordiness and repetitions are at times unbearable; he has no feeling for words, no sense of diction, no ear for euphony. The following sentences from Sister Carrie are examples of Dreiser's writing style at its worst: "The, to Carrie, very important theatrical performance was to take place at the Avery on conditions which were to make it more noteworthy than was at first anticipated"; "They had young men of the kind whom she, since her experience with Drouet, felt above, who took them out."

Dreiser's style is, nevertheless, important to the totality of his work. It is as valid a part of his art as his creation of characters and selection of detail. If the style seems to indicate something that is muddled, commonplace, undiscerning, cheap, and shoddy, it does so for the sake of artistic accuracy. When Dreiser writes that he seeks to present "an accurate description of life as it is," he means among other things that a graceful and measured style would detract from or contradict the reality it seeks to present. The reader, like Carrie, must learn the hard lesson of undecorated truth. After reading the novel, one feels this is the way life was, and is.

A page of Dreiser's writing is as distinctive as a page from any other author. To Dreiser, the conscious artifice of a high style seemed to contradict his whole idea that life is something largely out of control. He relaxes his grip on the words and the pieces fall together as they may. Style itself is a model of the universe he sought to interpret and describe.

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