This is a Fictional Friday post, where I review a book (but it might not always be fiction)
The early 20th Century had a massive impact on American fiction.
Questions of identity, after America started to gain their own identity as a country, plague early twentieth century writing. Questions of morality, a midst an economical boom and consequent collapse, changing gender rolls and, later, when the prohibition made illegal substances cool and acceptable, created themes for many American authors. After gaining independence, authors begin to write in what is now considered an “American” style, rather than mimicking their forebears as 19th century authors did.
Publishing Sister Carrie at the start of this era, on the turn of the century, Dreiser was very much involved in this movement towards an independent American literature, and also very interesting in ideas of morality.
Sister Carrie is a long book; but it’s a quick read because it’s also a good one – a page-turner, if you will. It was practically banned on its publication, not because of its content, which would have been questionable and controversial, but because the author’s apparent indifference towards the morality of the content.
Unlike the literature of the time, Carrie’s behavior is neither good nor bad – to Dreiser, nor to his reader – it simply is. She’s a young girl, who has moved to a city and she doesn’t settle with her lot of being a poor, working class girl. Instead she uses her beauty and her intelligence to climb the social ladder. The means by which she does this involve promiscuity – in the original sense of the word; sex outside of marriage – which was Not Okay in the early 20th century.
I think that if you give someone the facts and let them work it out for them-self, human nature will kick in. Rather than moralising and preaching at people, letting them interact with the text and with their own morality actually makes them use their brain to decipher their own opinions.
This, in my opinion, is much more productive than telling someone what’s right and wrong.
However, alas, American sensors thought otherwise and Sister Carrie was not promoted by it’s publishe in a way which was equal to it being banned. Looking back at it over a century later, we can see that the text made a massive step away from the emulative literature of the previous century. We can see that he was questioning the capitalist society, the class system, the poverty-gap, gender roles and much more.