Thomas Kranidas, ‘The Materials of Dreiser’s An American Tragedy’ (2)
Posted here (downloadable PDF file above) is
“The Materials of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy”
Columbia University, 1953
A while ago, I was contemplating writing an article on the sources of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. In my research, I came across a master’s thesis which was listed in Pizer, Dowell, and Rusch’s Dreiser bibliography.
I decided to look the thesis up because it was at Columbia University (accessible to me, since I live in New York City) and because the title intrigued me. It was by Thomas Kranidas and is entitled “The Materials of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy” (Master’s thesis, Columbia University, 1953, 94 pp.).
I read the thesis at Columbia. It wasn’t really an investigation of the sources of An American Tragedy, but it was mainly focused on that novel. It included consideration to a limited extent of other works of Dreiser — e.g., his poetry and essays — that pertained to the author’s argument.
This thesis is, in my opinion, excellent — very penetrating. It is one of the best analyses I have ever read of Dreiser as a writer and muddled thinker, and someone with pretensions to intellectual and social stature that can be detected in his writings. It is for the most part critical of Dreiser, but I think it is one of the best analyses of him I have ever read. It gets under Dreiser’s skin and “nails” him. Nonetheless, the author, Thomas Kranidas, is appreciative of the strengths of An American Tragedy.
The thesis is here made available for the first time. I took it upon myself to photocopy the entire thesis and obtained permission from Professor Kranidas to post it on this site. It is posted above as a downloadable PDF file.
— posted by Roger W. Smith
addendum, March 20, 2021
Copying Thomas Kranidas’s Master’s thesis (Columbia University, 1953) on Dreiser, which I did maybe fifteen to twenty years ago, was a chore.
The thesis was in Special Collections at Butler Library at Columbia, and I was required to get special permission to read and copy it. It was bound in a bulky volume along with other theses and papers. The copying machines at the library did not work well and kept breaking down.
Professor Kranidas was pleased to learn of my interest in his thesis — actually, what he said was that he was flattered. He said that I could and post his thesis on my site under one condition, that I agree to meet him. We did meet and formed a lasting friendship.
I realize that the Xerox copy of the thesis such as it was then (my photocopy) was in poor shape in terms of things such as alignment of text and print that was fuzzy. I have corrected this, being more able to do such formatting now myself.
I am posting a better, cleaner copy of the thesis. Much has been published on Dreiser since when Professor Kranidas wrote his thesis. The thesis did not break new ground insofar as scholarship was concerned. but it is a lucid, balanced, and penetrating analysis of Dreiser that is still well worth reading, and that gets at some of the key strengths and (notably) weaknesses of Dreiser as a thinker and would be intellectual who never overcame the sense of inferiority he felt from being an immigrant born and raised in conditions of poverty and lack of social status.
— Roger W. Smith
email from Roger W. Smith to Thomas Kranidas, April 25, 2017
Dear Professor Kranidas,
Following up on our conversation today, a few thoughts about your master’s thesis.
I read it at Butler Library. It is available nowhere else, I believe. (It was not available and was irretrievable until I copied and scanned it and posted in on my Dreiser site.)
My basic reaction, gut feeling was that (1) it was an M.A. thesis, not a dissertation; (2) it was not based on exhaustive research into the sources of An American Tragedy (which was not your objective).
Nevertheless, I felt that it was one of the best statements I have read about Dreiser qua writer; Dreiser the self-styled “philosopher”; and Dreiser the social climber who yearned for what he professed to disdain.
You “nailed” him … got under his skin. Analyzed, penetratingly, his weaknesses as a writer and the shortcomings of his worldview … his pretensions, his myopia when it came to writing about the privileged classes.
While at the same time appreciating his strengths, and steering clear of a hatchet job.