1. The book I have chosen to describe is “Jennie Gerhardt” by Theodore Dreiser. I didn’t even think for a moment, when I got a task to make a presentation of a book, because it is my favourite masterpiece. First I read it 3 years ago. I started when I was in the plane and the 4-hour flight seemed to run very fast. Despite the fact I went to Turkey in summer to relax, swim and have nothing to think about, every day I spent an hour to read this book. So absorbed I was. I took exactly this book with me on holiday only for one reason: I like when the title consists of name or surname, like, for example, “Jennie Gerhardt”, ”Anna Karenina”, “”Jane Air” by Charlotte Bronte or ”Brothers Shelenberg ” by Bergard Callerman. It makes me interested, because I imagine that there would be a description of one especial fate, which sounds really mysterious.
2. Now I’m going to tell you some facts about the author’s biography and how it’s connected with the novel. Theodore Dreiser was born in 1871 in the USA and died in 1945 there. His family was out of heels so he had to get by. He couldn’t afford himself to pay for education. So he had to give up university. Then he tried himself in different spheres: literature, publicism, social activities, he even was an accountant. Politically, Dreiser was involved in several campaigns against social injustice. The literary career began with the novel “Sister Carrie”, published in 1900. The second novel was “Jennie Gerhardt”, published in 1911.
This novel as many other works of Dreiser is full of autobiographical features. The closest connection appear in description of Gerhardts. For example the head of the family William Gerhardt has much in common with the author’s father John Poll Dreiser: deep religiosity, even devoutness. It’s known that the authors mother supported the views of her husband. The same situation takes place in the novel: the William’s wife, formally professed doctrine Mennonite willingly accepted her husband’s religion. Autobiographical features are felt in the description of everyday life of the family Gerhardt, and the scenes of their move from Columbus to Cleveland, and on many other pages of the novel.
Even the tragic destiny of William Gerhardt, I mean his disability to do any work in the end of his life, was the image of Theodor’s father, who was dreadfully maimed while doing construction. Finally he became disabled, too. As for the main character of the novel, Jennie herself, one of Theodor’s sisters, Mary, appeared to be the prototype of her. All of these demonstrate the reference of Dreisers to the typical American lifestyle. In November 1932, Dreiser signed a contract with Paramount for the film based on a novel formulation of “Jennie Gerhardt.” In 1944, the American Academy of Arts and Letters award Dreiser honorary gold medal for outstanding achievements in the arts and literature.
3. What concerns the novel itself, generally, positive assessment of the press didn’t promote the popularity of the novel among wide circles of American readers. Actually, until the end of 1911 there were sold only 7,720 copies of the novel. Because of this Dreiser said: “If I were you, I would not express so much interest to me. I was not to be the author of books destined to be bestsellers. I will find satisfaction only in the statements of criticism, of course, if I have luck. Critical acclaim does not help sell books, and their indifference is not harmful to the author. I’m just not interesting for public – that was it”.
There are some explanations for such an income: first, American critics are unanimous in saying that the reading public in 1911, was not yet ready to accept Jenny as a positive image, worthy of praise, if not, then at least the sympathy and understanding. The dominant factors determining the social value of the image of Jennie, didn’t occur to be her kindness and sacrifice, and the external circumstances of her hard life, but the existence of an illegitimate. And it was inappropriate to the bourgeois society. Besides, attentive readers couldn’t help but noticing that Jennie, falling from sin to sin is demonstrated as surely positive character, which offended ladies from so-called high society.
4. As for the plot, from the first glance it’s rather trivial. But when you are fully absorbed in it, you can’t stay indifferent. Jennie Gerhardt is a destitute young woman. While working in a hotel in Columbus, Ohio, Jennie meets Senator George Brander, who becomes infatuated with her. He helps her family and declares his wish to marry her. Jennie, grateful for his benevolence, agrees to make love and sleep with him, but then the serious ailment leads the Senator to death, leaving her pregnant. William Gerhardt, her father, gets ashamed of Jennie. However, she gives birth to a daughter, Vesta, and moves to Cleveland where she finds work as a lady’s maid to a prominent family. Consequently, she meets Lester Kane, a prosperous manufacturer’s son.
Jennie falls in love with him, impressed by his strong will and generosity. She leaves her daughter behind and they visit New York together. Kane, unaware that Jennie has a child, wishes to marry her, but, anticipating his family’s disapproval, decides instead that she shall become his mistress. They live together successfully in Chicago, even through Jennie’s revelation after three years that Vesta is her daughter. Kane does not yield to his family’s pressure to leave Jennie, but after his father’s death discovers that he will not inherit a substantial part of the family business unless he discards her. They visit Europe together, where Kane’s attention shifts from Jennie to a woman of his own class, Letty Gerald. On hearing the will’s terms, it is Jennie who demands that they separate. Kane, after providing for her, marries Letty and resumes his former social status.
Jennie loses her mother, father, daughter because of typhoid and adopts two orphans, but through it all, continues to love him. She is so lonesome. Kane becomes ill. He tells Jennie he still loves her, and she supports him until his death, mourning secretly at his funeral. 5. And now I’m going to express my personal observation of the characters. First of all, of course, Jennie Gerhardt. She is very versatile character. On the one hand, she makes a lot of mistakes: she breaks the moral rules of the society, of her family, in particular. I mean her love affairs without marriage, illegitimate child. It seems to be a shame! But, on the other hand, circumstances play a big role. She is a really trustful girl. Her nature is good and she expects people to be the same. Jenny has a wonderful gentle nature, which can’t be expressed with words. She was born without comprehension for what, and finishes life with the same misunderstanding.
Life always, up to the last minute, seems to be infinitely beautiful, the real wonderland, paradise. Showing the innate nobility of Jennie, the writer in masterful way paints a picture full of the truth of life, asserting the social conditioning of Jennie’s Fall. Actually, it wasn’t the Fall of man, it was a violation of the norms of bourgeois morality. She only follows her heart. Jenny sincerely loved Senator Brander and later Lester Kane, and by the way severe trials of life partly cause the relationship with them. Her brother was under the threat of imprisonment, and in order o help him, she went to Senator Brander. When her father burned his arm, was seriously injured, the family was left starving, Jennie turns to Lester Kane. By all means, Jennie is better than Brander, who left her for entertainment in Washington, and Lester Kane, who abandoned her, not daring to sacrifice his position in society. The next character I’m going to speak about is Senator Brander.
He is a father of Jennie’s child and her first love. First, nothing bad can be said about him, because he promised to marry, he seemed to be sincere with the main hero, he helped her. However, try as he might, he is still a part of that bourgeois society, and what would happen next can hardly be predicted. Then, Lester Kane, Jennie’s second lover. He meets Jennie as he is visiting his old friend Mrs Bracebridge. He is also an ambiguous person. Despite all things he made for Jennie, all his help, he is addicted to money and social status. I can’t claim he is absolutely negative character, no. He sincerely craves to be with Jennie, no matter what role she would play. He even easily takes the fact Jennie has a child and more unpleasant fact, that she concealed it. However, respect, even better to say fear of parent’s disfavour, stays obvious.
He was also under the pressure of his elder brother Robert, who always gets at Lester. It’s not a discovery that life is hard and different misfortunes could happen, but I think whatever happens you should stay human. Lester decides not to look for difficult ways. He abandons Jennie, letting her think it’s necessary for both and despite all his next help, I mean him to be a betrayer. Another important character is Jennie’s father, William Gerhardt. As I’ve mentioned he is a really religious person. He is also very hard-working and principled. Although after Jennie’s fall William renounces her as a daughter, he still loves her.
There are 2 worlds in the novel. The first is Gerhard’s world: world of high morality, value of labor, religion. Nothing can break these rules, but love. Jennie feels herself capable for doing it. She realizes her sins, but all of them can be justified. In contrary, there is another world – Kane’s world, representative of which is Archibald, Lester’s father. The main things are: money, publicity, public opinion and social status. These issues appear to be more valuable in the novel, because Lester is afraid to fight against money-addicted society whereas Jennie is ready.
6. To conclude, it can say that it is the finished book with a clear line of ideas. It makes you consider about your selfishness. There are certainly some nuances that you may not like – namely the author’s personal assessment of his characters. But he and exactly the author to afford it. He had a clear idea that is perfectly expressed. I find it a little bit strange that basically all readers discuss “what was weak-willed was Jennie! She didn’t even insist on the marriage!, she infuriates with her self- sacrifice”. I find such thoughts to be a failure to take the hero’s the way it was created by the author at the time of reading and to look at the world through his eyes. I think most modern girls are so hard to understand a bit “Buddhist” nature of taking all the available circumstances.
By the way, femininity has been valued for centuries as the ability to submit unreservedly beloved man, and nothing else! She was the epitome of femininity. But what about the true love? It means the absence of requirement something in return. With no doubts, the world has changed as the values have done. Such people hardly can be found. But there is something to strive for! Besides, books are read in order to improve ourselves, to get better! As for the weakness of will, Jennie is stronger than all of us in spirit. After all troubles happened she stands for 2 orphans bringing them up alone! All in all the book will appeal to those who seek spiritual ideals, and not the cynical materialism. As for me, I don’t have much in common with Jennie, but she makes me muse upon everything.
Courtney from Study Moose
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