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The Religious Affiliation Author
Theodore Dreiser


Influential American novelist Theodore Dreiser was born and raised in a Catholic family. As an infant he was baptized as a Catholic. His Catholic background figured prominently into much of his writing.

From: "Theodore Dreiser" article, written in 2000, on "Books and Writers" website (http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/dreiser.htm; viewed 21 October 2005):

Theodore Dreiser was born in Sullivan, Indiana, the ninth of ten children. His parents were poor. In the 1860s his father, a devout Catholic German immigrant, had attempted to establish his own woolen mill, but after it was destroyed in a fire, the family lived in poverty. Dreiser's schooling was erratic, as the family moved from town to town. He left home when he was 16 and worked at whatever jobs he could find. With the help of his former teacher, he was able to spend the year 1889-1890 at Indiana University. Dreiser left after only a year. He was, however, a voracious reader, and the impact of such writers as Hawthorne, Poe, Balzac, Herbert Spencer, and Freud influenced his thought and his reaction against organized religion.

From: Thomas P. Riggio, "Biography of Theodore Dreiser", written in 2000, on "Dreiser Web Source" website (http://www.library.upenn.edu/collections/rbm/dreiser/tdbio.html; viewed 21 October 2005):

Theodore Dreiser (August 27, 1871-December 27, 1945) was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, and baptized as Herman Theodore Dreiser... He went [as an adult] first to Dayton, Ohio, where he met Sarah, the daughter of a Mennonite family that had come to Ohio from Pennsylvania. Since he was a Roman Catholic and her family was strongly anti-papist [i.e., anti-Catholic], religious tensions forced the couple to elope. When they married in 1851, Sarah was seventeen and Johann twelve years her senior...

Dreiser's childhood coincided with the family's hard times... This time was further darkened by the strict Roman Catholic training he received in German American parochial schools, an experience that informed his later critique of Catholicism and deeply influenced his quest for alternative forms of religious experience.

Dawn (1931), an autobiography dealing with his first twenty years, is a classic of German American literature. In it Dreiser gives a vivid picture of his German-speaking, Roman Catholic, downwardly mobile family and offers a moving chronicle of the financial, social, and emotional pressures facing working-class families in the late nineteenth century.

...[Among Dreiser's best fiction is] Jennie Gerhardt (1911), in which he modeled the Gerhardt family on the Dreisers in Indiana. In this and other works one finds the themes of the memoirs: the figure of the foreign-born father who fails to understand his children's American ways and loses authority over them; the second generation's rebellion against Old World religious and moral values; the role of the public school in the Americanization process; and the isolated, beleaguered mother who attempts to mediate between traditional values and the emotional needs of her children. Dreiser eventually extended these motifs to his portraits of other American families, such as those of the evangelical preachers in An American Tragedy (1925) and the Quakers in The Bulwark (1946)...

Dreiser attempted to collect his thoughts and research on the social problems of the day in Tragic America. This volume of over four hundred pages is an argument against the organizations that Dreiser felt were responsible for the lack of economic equity in American society. Gathering together a large amount of raw data, he focused his attack on large corporations, religious and educational institutions, the depositories of wealth, and the leisure class in the United States...

...[Dreiser] became embroiled in a public debate with the author Hutchins Hapgood on the question of what Hapgood felt were anti-Semitic remarks Dreiser and the other editors made in an "Editorial Conference (with Wine)" article in May 1933. Always contentious, Dreiser responded angrily with a combination of Zionist remarks and ethnic slurs which haunted him for the rest of his days. He believed, he said, that the Jews should establish a national homeland and that they should otherwise assimilate completely into American life. In listing the unassimilated characteristics of American Jews, he used racial stereotypes that convinced many that he was either anti-Semitic or, at the least, totally insensitive to the events occurring in Europe at the time. Although he publicly retracted his statements, he never could redeem himself completely.

...Dreiser died of heart failure on December 28, 1945, before completing the last chapter of The Stoic. The book reflected his late interest in Hinduism, which, like his earlier attraction to Quakerism, centered on the mystical element in its system of belief. The book was published with an appendix by Helen Dreiser that outlined the novelist's plans for the ending. Services were held at Forest Lawns' Church of the Recessional, where Dreiser's friend John Howard Lawson paid homage to him for his writing and for his lifelong struggle for a more equitable society.

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Webpage created 21 October 2005. Last modified 16 November 2005.
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