An American Tragedy

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Date: 1925, 1931, 1933

Region: North America, Europe

Subject: Explicit Sexuality, Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Literature


American Tragedy.JPG

Artist: Theodore Dreiser

Confronting Bodies: Boston's District Attorney, Paramount Pictures, Nazi Germany

Dates of Action: 1925, 1931, 1933

Location: United States, Germany

Description of Artwork: In Dreiser's most successful novel, An American Tragedy, the main character is charged with the murder of his pregnant lover and faces the electric chair.

The Incident: In late 1925 Dreiser published his most successful novel, An American Tragedy, and was threatened with legal action by the Boston District Attorney who was taking action against titles deemed to danger the "morals of youth". Dreiser's publisher convinced a bookseller in Boston to take a stand by selling the book. The bookseller was arrested and fined and the appeal was not heard for two years, until 1929.

In 1931 An American Tragedy was being adapted for film by Paramount. Paramount translated the book into a tame love story and Dreiser sought legal action against the studio. Dreiser lost the case on the grounds that concerns for the audience trumped the concern of an individual author.

In 1933 An American Tragedy was banned in Nazi Germany.

Results of the Incident: Dreiser's battle against Paramount voiced a frustration that would become more common among authors who felt the film industry disregarded the author's intentions in favor of the consumer.

Source: Censorship: A World Encyclopedia