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On one level, An American Tragedy is the story of the corruption and destruction of one man, Clyde Griffiths, who forfeits his life in desperate pursuit of success. On a deeper, more profound level, the novel represents a massive portrayal of the society whose values both shape Clyde's tawdry ambitions and seal his fate: It is an unsurpassed depiction of the harsh realities of American life and of the dark side of the American Dream. Extraordinary in scope and power, vivid in its sense of wholesale human waste, unceasing in its rich compassion, An American Tragedy stands as Theodore Dreiser's supreme achievement.
Based on an actual crime case, An American Tragedy was the inspiration for the film A Place in the Sun, winner of six Academy Awards, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift.