Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Theodore Dreiser, fully Theodore Herman Albert Dreiser

American Novelist and Journalist of the Naturalist School

"When a girl leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse."

"When Caroline Meeber boarded the afternoon train for Chicago, her total outfit consisted of a small truck, a cheap imitation alligator-skin satchel, a small lunch in a paper box, and a yellow leather snap purse, containing her ticket, a scrap of paper with her sister's address in Van Buren Street, and four dollars in money."

"Words are but the vague shadows of the volumes we mean. Little audible links, they are, chaining together great inaudible feelings and purposes."

"And yet, before he had ever earned any money at all, he had always told himself that if only he had a better collar, a nicer shirt, a good suit, a swell overcoat, like some boys had!"

"Art is the stored honey of the human soul."

"At that time, the reputation of the detective William A. Pinkerton and his reference agencies was very important. The man had risen by a series of vicissitudes of poverty to high standing in his weird and obnoxious to some people profession, but for all who need them to be unhappy Services, was his well-known and patriotic role in the civil war and to Abraham Lincoln person a recommendation. He, or rather his organization had this protected during the entire duration of his stormy tenure in the Government Palace. His company had to call offices in Philadelphia, Washington and New York only the most important places."

"At the same time so innately pagan and unconventional were his thoughts in regard to all this that he could now ask himself, and that seriously enough, why should he not be allowed to direct his thoughts toward her and away from Roberta, since at the moment Sondra supplied the keener thought of delight, Roberta could not know about this. She could not see into his mind, could she - become aware of any such extra experience as this unless he told her. And most assuredly he did not intend to tell her. And what harm, he now asked himself, was there in a poor youth like himself aspiring to such heights? Other youths as poor as himself had married girls as rich as Sondra."

"Belief in the greatness and dignity of Man has been the guiding principle of my life and work. The logic of my life and work leads me therefore to apply for membership in the Community Party."

"A thought will color a world for us."

"A human can be great not only due to his mind but also feelings."

"Caroline, or Sister Carrie, as she had been half affectionately termed by the family, was possessed of a mind rudimentary in its power of observation and analysis. Self-interest with her was high, but not strong. It was, nevertheless, her guiding characteristic. Warm with the fancies of youth, pretty with the insipid prettiness of the formative period, possessed of a figure promising eventual shapeliness and an eye alight with certain native intelligence, she was a fair example of the middle American class?two generations removed from the emigrant. Books were beyond her interest?knowledge a sealed book. In the intuitive graces she was still crude. She could scarcely toss her head gracefully. Her hands were almost ineffectual. The feet, though small, were set flatly. And yet she was interested in her charms, quick to understand the keener pleasures of life, ambitious to gain in material things. A half-equipped little knight she was, venturing to reconnoitre the mysterious city and dreaming wild dreams of some vague, far-off supremacy, which should make it prey and subject?the proper penitent, grovelling at a woman's slipper."

"Certainly he was honest, hard-working, and thrifty. They had been waiting a long time for the day when they could say they owned their own home and had a little something laid away for emergencies. That day had come, and life was not half bad. Their house was neat,-white with green shutters, surrounded by a yard with well-kept flower beds, a smooth lawn, and some few shapely and broad spreading trees. There was a front porch with rockers, a swing under one tree, a hammock under another, a buggy and several canvassing wagons in a nearby stable. Witla liked dogs, so there were two collies. Mrs. Witla liked live things, so there were a canary bird, a cat, some chickens, and a bird house set aloft on a pole where a few blue-birds made their home. It was a nice little place, and Mr. and Mrs. Witla were rather proud of it."

"Cowperwood, who saw things in the large, could scarcely endure this minutae. He was but little interested in the affairs of bygone men and women, being so intensely engaged with the living present. And after a time he slipped outside, preferring the wide sweep of gardens, with their flower-lined walks and views of the cathedral. Its arches and towers and stained-glass windows, this whole carefully executed shrine, still held glamor, but all because of the hands and brains, aspirations and dreams of selfish and self-preserving creatures like himself. And so many of these, as he now mused, walking about, had warred over possession of this church. And now they were within its walls, graced and made respectable, the noble dead! Was any man noble? Had there ever been such a thing as an indubitably noble soul? He was scarcely prepared to believe it. Men killed to live?all of them ?and wallowed in lust in order to reproduce themselves. In fact, wars, vanities, pretenses, cruelties, greeds, lusts, murder, spelled their true history, with only the weak running to a mythical saviour or god for aid. And the strong using this belief in a god to further the conquest of the weak. And by such temples or shrines as this. He looked, meditated, and was somehow touched with the futility of so."

"Every person according to his light, said Ames You must help the world express itself. Use will make your powers endure..."

"First of all, this thing called money a moral obligation may have to find a response to sale items and fair labor laws busaal force at the time we realize that not everyone in our society, politics and religion is very much nonsense is continuing on the road to disappear."

"For it pained him not a little to think that some one of whom he had once been so continuously fond up to this time should be made to suffer through jealousy of him, for he himself well knew the pangs of jealousy in connection with Hortense. He could for some reason almost see himself in Roberta?s place."

"He was a quick, wiry, active man of no great stature, sandy-haired, with blue eyes with noticeable eye-brows, an eagle nose, and a rather radiant and ingratiating smile. Service as a canvassing salesman, endeavoring to persuade recalcitrant wives and indifferent or conservative husbands to realize that they really needed a new machine in their home, had taught him caution, tact, savoir faire. He knew how to approach people pleasantly. His wife thought too much so."

"Honors At his funeral, Charlie Chaplin read Dreiser's poem, The Road I Came. ... American writing before and after his time differed almost as much as biology before and after Darwin. He was a man of large originality, of profound feeling and of unshakable courage. All of us who write are better off because he lived, worked and hoped."

"As for the parents of Roberta, they were excellent examples of that native type of Americanism which resists facts and reveres illusion. Titus Alden was one of that vast company of individuals who are born, pass through and die out of the world without ever quite getting any one thing straight. They appear, blunder, and end in a fog. Like his two brothers, both older and almost as nebulous, Titus was a farmer solely because his father had been a farmer. And he was here on this farm because it had been willed to him and because it was easier to stay here and try to work this than it was to go elsewhere. He was a Republican because his father before him was a Republican and because this county was Republican. It never occurred to him to be otherwise. And, as in the case of his politics and his religion, he had borrowed all his notions of what was right and wrong from those about him. A single, serious, intelligent or rightly informing book had never been read by any member of this family - not one. But they were nevertheless excellent, as conventions, morals and religions go - honest, upright, God-fearing and respectable."

"But this is not what I should be doing either, is it? This is Lycurgus. I am a Griffiths, here. I know how these people feel toward me - their parents even. Do I really care for her? Is there not something about her quick and easy availability which, if not exactly dangerous in so far as my future here is concerned, is not quite satisfactory, - too quickly intimate?"

"How wonderful it must be to be a son who, without having had to earn all this, could still be so much, take oneself so seriously, exercise so much command and authority. It might be, as it plainly was, that this youth was very superior and indifferent in tone toward him. But think of being such a youth, having so much power at one?s command!"

"I feel that the immense gulf between wealth and poverty in America and throughout the world should be narrowed. I feel the government should effect the welfare of all the people - not that of a given class."

"If I were personally to define religion I would say that it is a bandage that man has invented to protect a soul made bloody by circumstance; an envelope to pocket him from the unescapable and unstable illimitable. We seek to think of things as permanent and see them so. Religion gives life a habitation and a name apparently-though it is an illusion. So we are brought back to time and space and illimitable mind-as what? And we shall always stand before them attributing to them all those things which we cannot know."

"In answer to her ring the door was opened by one of those exteriorly, as well as mentally sober, small-town practitioners who, Clyde?s and Short?s notion to the contrary notwithstanding, was the typical and fairly conservative physician of the countryside - solemn, cautious, moral, semi-religious to a degree, holding some views which he considered liberal and others which a fairly liberal person would have considered narrow and stubborn into the bargain. Yet because of the ignorance and stupidity of so many of those about him, he was able to consider himself at least fairly learned. In constant touch with all phases of ignorance and dereliction as well as sobriety, energy, conservatism, success and the like, he was more inclined, where fact appeared to nullify his early conclusion in regard to many things, to suspend judgment between the alleged claims of heaven and hell and leave it there suspended and undisturbed."

"In my personal judgment, America as yet certainly is neither a social nor a democratic success. Its original democratic theory does not work, or has not, and a trust - and a law-frightened people, to say nothing of a cowardly or suborned, and in case helpless, press, prove it. Where in any country not dominated by an autocracy has ever a people slipped about afraid to voice its views on war, on freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the trusts, religion - indeed, any honest private conviction that it has. In what country can a man be thoroughly browbeaten, arrested without trial, denied the privilege of a hearing and held against the written words of the nation's Constitution guaranteeing its citizens freedom of speech, of public gathering, of writing and publishing what they honestly feel? In what other lands less free are whole elements held in a caste condition - the Negro, the foreign born, the Indian?"

"In short, he was one of those early, daring manipulators who later were to seize upon other and even larger phases of American natural development for their own aggrandizement."

"In the light of the world's attitude toward woman and her duties, the nature of Carrie's mental state deserves consideration. Actions such as hers are measured by an arbitrary scale. Society possesses a conventional standard whereby it judges all things. All men should be good, all women virtuous. Wherefore, villain, hast thou failed?"

"Life is made for the strong. There is no mercy in it for the weak? none...Such is the tragedy of desire."

"Now. If any habits ever had time to fix upon her, they would have operated here. Habits are peculiar things. They will drive the really non-religious mind out of bed to say prayers that are only a custom and not a devotion. The victim of habit, when he has"

"On thinking back over the books I have written, I can only say this has been my vision of life - life with its romance and cruelty, its pity and terror, its joys and anxiety, its peace and conflict. You may not like my vision but it is the only one that I have seen and felt, therefore, it is the only one I can give you."

"One might be a great person not only due to his mind but feelings"

"Only in rare instances and with rare individuals does there seem to be any guiding light from within."

"Our civilization is still in a middle stage, scarcely beast, in that it is no longer wholly guided by instinct; scarcely human, in that it is not yet wholly guided by reason. On the tiger no responsibility rests. We see him aligned by nature with the forces of life - he is born into their keeping and without thought he is protected. We see man far removed from the lairs of the jungles, his innate instincts dulled by too near an approach to free-will, his free-will not sufficiently developed to replace his instincts and afford him perfect guidance... In this intermediate stage he wavers - neither drawn in harmony with nature by his instincts nor yet wisely putting himself into harmony by his own free-will... We have the consolation of knowing that evolution is ever in action, that the ideal is a light that cannot fail. He will not forever balance thus between good and evil. When this jangle of free-will and instinct shall have been adjusted, when perfect understanding has given the former the power to replace the latter entirely, man will no longer vary. The needle of understanding will yet point steadfast and unwavering to the distant pole of truth."

"Shakespeare, I come! [Intended last words, as told to H. L. Mencken]"

"She had no desire for accuracy, no desire for precise information. Innate sensuousness rarely has. It basks in sunshine, bathes in color, dwells in a sense of the impressive and the gorgeous, and rests there. Accuracy is not necessary except in the case of aggressive, acquisitive natures, when it manifests itself in a desire to seize. True controlling sensuousness cannot be manifested in the most active dispositions, nor again in the most accurate."

"Sondra was of the exact order and spirit that most intrigued him - a somewhat refined (and because of means and position showered upon her) less savage, although scarcely less self-centered, Hortense Briggs. She was, in her small, intense way, a seeking Aphrodite, eager to prove to any who were sufficiently attractive the destroying power of her charm, while at the same time retaining her own personality and individuality free of any entangling alliance or compromise. However, for varying reasons which she could not quite explain to herself, Clyde appealed to her. He might not be anything socially or financially, but he was interesting to her."

"The long drizzle had begun. Pedestrians had turned up collars and trousers at the bottom. Hands were hidden in the pockets of the umbrella-less - umbrellas were up. The street looked like a sea of round, black-cloth roofs, twisting, bobbing, moving. Trucks and vans were rattling in a noisy line, and everywhere men were shielding themselves as best they could."

"The president's brilliant theory of vending his wares direct to the people?was perhaps the only one who had suspicions. He had once written a brilliant criticism to some inquirer, in which he had said that no enterprise of such magnitude as the Northern Pacific had ever before been entirely dependent upon one house, or rather upon one man, and that he did not like it. I am not sure that the lands through which the road runs are so unparalleled in climate, soil, timber, minerals, etc., as Mr. Cooke and his friends would have us believe. Neither do I think that the road"

"Oh, blessed are the children of endeavor in this, that they try and are hopeful. And blessed also are they who, knowing, smile and approve."

"There appears to be in metaphysics a basis, or no basis, according as the temperament and the experience of each shall incline him, for ethical or spiritual ease or peace. Life sinks into the unknowable at every turn and only the temporary or historical scene remains as a guide,-and that passes also. It may seem rather beside the mark that Eugene in his moral and physical depression should have inclined to various religious abstrusities for a time, but life does such things in a storm. They constituted a refuge from himself, from his doubts and despairs as religious thought always does."

"There was, however, another mental as well as emotional phase in regard to all this and that related to her clothes. For since coming to Lycurgus she had learned that the more intelligent girls here dressed better than did those about Biltz and Trippetts Mills. At the same time she had been sending a fair portion of her money to her mother - sufficient to have equipped her exceptionally well, as she now realized, had she retained it."

"When a man, however passively, becomes an obstacle to the fulfillment of a woman's desires, he becomes an odious thing in her eyes, - or will, given time enough."

"Yet the need for religion is impermanent, like all else in life. As the soul regains its health, it becomes prone to the old illusions. Again women entered his life-never believe otherwise-drawn, perhaps, by a certain wistfulness and loneliness in Eugene, who though quieted by tragedy for a little while was once more moving in the world. He saw their approach with more skepticism, and yet not unmoved-women who came through the drawing rooms to which he was invited, wives and daughters who sought to interest him in themselves and would scarcely take no for an answer; women of the stage-women artists, poetasters, ?varietists,? critics, dreamers. From the many approaches, letters and meetings, some few relationships resulted, ending as others had ended. Was he not changed, then? Not much-no. Only hardened intellectually and emotionally-tempered for life and work. There were scenes, too, violent ones, tears, separations, renouncements, cold meetings-with little Angela always to one side in Myrtle?s care as a stay and consolation."

"What matter it if a man gaineth the whole world and loseth his own soul?"

"The Road I Came. ... American writing before and after his time differed almost as much as biology before and after Darwin. He was a man of large originality, of profound feeling and of unshakable courage. All of us who write are better off because he lived, worked and hoped. [Honors: At his funeral, Charlie Chaplin read Dreiser's poem]"