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"The Game as It Is Played"

Essays on Theodore Dreiser


Donald Pizer

The Game as It Is Played comprises the best of Donald Pizer’s essays on Theodore Dreiser. Pizer, one of Dreiser’s principal critics over the past forty years, is especially concerned in establishing the distinctive nature and quality of Dreiser’s naturalism in many of these essays. From one of Dreiser’s earliest short stories to his acknowledged masterpiece, An American Tragedy, Pizer demonstrates that in Dreiser’s hands naturalism is not the blunt instrument it is usually assumed to be but rather a powerful tool for the rendering of a complex view of the human condition. In addition, the essays explore several of the more controversial areas of Dreiser scholarship, including his late conversion to communism, his anti-Semitism, and the text of Sister Carrie.


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Dreiser’s Works


PIZER_book.indd 119 09/08/13 4:06 PM PIZER_book.indd 120 09/08/13 4:06 PM · 9 · theodore dreiser’s “nigger jeff”: the development of an aesthetic Thanks to the work of Robert H. Elias and W. A. Swanberg, we are beginning to have an adequate sense of Dreiser’s life. But many aspects of Dreiser the art- ist remain relatively obscure or unexplored—in particular his aesthetic beliefs and fictional techniques at various stages of his career. An excellent oppor- tunity to study Dreiser’s developing aesthetic lies in the existence of several versions of his short story “Nigger Jeff.” The extant versions of this story reveal with considerable clarity and force Dreiser’s changing beliefs concerning the nature of fiction. Dreiser’s first attempt to write a story about the lynching of a Missouri Negro is preserved in an unpublished University of Virginia manuscript called “A Victim of Justice.”1 Although “A Victim of Justice” is clearly a work of the 1890s, it is difficult to date its composition precisely. The narrator of the story begins by noting that he has recently spent “a day in one of Missouri’s pleasant villages.” While visiting a Potter’s Field, he recalls a Missouri lynch- ing “several years since.” This opening situation is the product of a number of events of the mid-1890s. Dreiser was a reporter for the St. Louis Republic in the Fall of 1893, and it was during this period that he observed the lynching on which the story is based.2 In addition, on July 23,...

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