Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Baker, Orville

Degree Name

M.S. (Master of Science)

Legacy Department

Department of English


Dreiser; Theodore; 1871-1945


It appears that at the turn of the century American literary scholars were greatly influenced by deterministic and social thinking about literature set down by the French historian, Hippolyte Taine.1 According to this writer's History of English Literature, the aim of literary study is to uncover the environmental causes of literature; and these are conceived as falling under the headings of race, milieu, and moment. That is, the study of literature is valuable because literature, even more than religion or philosophy, is the best revelation of the motives by which civilization is determined. Or, as Taine writes in the introduction to his works: The discovery has been made that a literary work is not a mere play of the imagination, the isolated caprice of an excited brain, but a transcript of contemporary manners and customs and the signs of a particular state of intellect. The conclusion derived from this is that, through literary monuments, we can trace the way in which men felt and thought many centuries ago.2 In other words, we should study a work of art as a sociological revelation of the time as well as a revelation of (i.e., an indication of) the cultural influences upon the writer. Another theory of literary criticism held by the psychological critics, who have been greatly influenced by Freud, is that we should view a work of art solely as an imaginative piece produced by the autonomous artist and showing the workings of his inner mind. These two critical theories are the bases of present-day sociological and Marxist criticism on the one hand, and the psychological criticism, which many contemporary critics practice, on the other. In the study of certain writers like Theodore Dreiser, it has seamed to many critics that the former method is justified. But it is true that Dreiser's reputation, as many critics argue, is sustained by his having been an early naturalist, by his having merely represented a mode of thought than emerging in intellectual America; and must we use Taine's approach in studying him? Or is he to be read as a unique and individual creative artist whose deterministic thinking had psychological rather than social causes and whose treatment demands psychological criticism? 1. William K. Wimsatt, Jr. and Cleanth Brooks, Literary Criticism (New York, 1957), p. 543. 2. H. A. Taine, History of English Literature, trans. H. Van Laun (New York, 1896), p. 1.


Includes bibliographical references (pages 63-65)


65 pages




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