Dreiser (1871-1945) is still considered one of the great American realists, or naturalists. His novels deal with everyday life, often with its sordid side. The characters who people his novels, unable to assert their will against natural and economic forces, are mixtures of good and bad, but he seldom passes judgment on them. He describes them and their actions in massive detail. As Dreiser sees them, human beings are not tragic but pathetic in their inability to escape their petty fates. In the end the sheer weight and power of the author's conviction compel the reader to share his compassionate vision.
Born in small-town Indiana, Dreiser rebelled as a youth against the poverty and narrowness of the life around him. One of his high school teachers recognized his talent and paid his tuition at Indiana University. But Dreiser left college after a year because he felt it "did not concern ordinary life at all." He had various jobs in Chicago: washing dishes, shoveling coal, working in a factory, and collecting bills¡Xexperiences which he later used in his writing. He taught himself to be a newspaper reporter and supported himself as a journalist and editor for many years while he was struggling to become recognized as a novelist.