Theodore Dreiser “The Trilogy of Desire”
In my opinion, there is no point in dividing the “Trilogy of Desire” into three separate books, because they are all connected not only with the storyline, but also with stylistic and historical features. In other words, before us is the full story of a person’s life, divided into three volumes. Theodore Dreiser started his iconic creation at the dawn of the First World War, and finished writing the third volume – Stoika – in the year of the end of World War II. But strange as it may seem, all three novels are not dedicated to war.
Theodore Dreiser did not change himself, and already in the first book “The Financier” is clearly traced his style, chosen in the debut novel “Sister Kerry”. Is it possible to compare his first book and the “Trilogy of Desire”? Definitely yes. Plot, language, motives and actions; all these components clearly correspond to all of the above mentioned works. However, in all this history there is one interesting detail: globally speaking, Dreiser managed to finish the third part of the trilogy – “Stoic” – just a few days before his own death, and although the ending contains a logical conclusion, the editors, with the consent of Dreiser’s wife, rough drafts of the final chapters of the book.
Of course, Dreiser did not retreat from his favorite topic – money. Nothing moves a person as meaningfully as a material good. Is this the dream of every American? In part, yes, and although everyone’s dream can differ, it all boils down to one thing – existence in abundance. This desire combines all the characters in Dreiser’s books: from Kerry and Hurstwood to “Sister Kerry” and to Frank Cowperwood and all his numerous companions and opponents in the books “Financier”, “Titan” and “Stoic.” The difference in the number of pages between a single book and a trilogy, however, makes it possible to describe in more detail the whole backyard of affairs and life processes of the protagonist, which clearly did not fit into Dreiser’s one novel. Therefore, even despite the lack of historical links, the story line and the intersection of characters, “Sister Kerry” can safely be considered a reminder before reading the entire “Trilogy of Desire.”
So, the general title of the collection, which includes the books “The Financier”, “Titan” and “Stoic”, already unambiguously hint that the primary driving force and motivation in the life of the main character are his desires. In the case of Frank Cowperwood, the fundamental force is money. In Frank’s life, this material good is given the most honorable place with which hardly any other values can compete, be it education, family or friendship. For him, money replaces the need for companionship; by them he pays for the love and favor of the powerful of this world; money for him is a tool for providing an all-permissible life, the main purpose of which is the constant replenishment of his own “toolkit”.
The division of the collection into three volumes conditionally divides Cowperwood’s life into three significant stages of his life: The “Financier” tells about the first steps of the young Cowperwood in the financial field in Philadelphia, about his first successes and defeats, which resulted in imprisonment.
Actions of the second book – “Titan” – are transferred to the young city of Chicago, in which Cowperwood creates gas enterprises, and then own transport empire. Actually, in this part he becomes a real titan in financial activity, but a real bastard in terms of moral. The novel “Stoic” is dedicated to the London stage of Cowperwood’s life, in which he strives to put a logical final point in all his affairs, as well as achieve reconciliation with his own love troubles, but the lingering illness and his subsequent death are only dots.
Probably, this is the most perfect and complete of the presented parts, both in the plot-motivational plan, and in its word-and-stylistic structure. In fact, Dreiser did not have to come up with anything: Cowperwood’s prototype was a really existing personality with a rather interesting biography, the writer just had to wrap the story of this man in a nice cover of words, and success was guaranteed. The author did this, and the readers had an opportunity to plunge headlong into America in the second half of the 19th century, to trace the vicissitudes of the political and economic life of the emerging world giant, and to understand the basics of financial and exchange activities. In other words, the book presents interests from different planes, and therefore few will find it boring. No less ardently, the writer adheres to the chronology of events, in parallel representing the evolution of the character and practical skills of the young businessman Frank Cowperwood.
Here he makes the first steps in business, grows up, knows the first sympathy, and soon the first true love, achieves first successes; eventually fills the first bumps on his own mistakes, but at a certain point he loses the sense of reality, and most importantly – restraint, after which his whole state, like a feather, carries away the wind of time. The culmination of the book can be considered the trial of Cowperwood and his conviction. Already in these episodes the reader realizes that the young businessman does not shun “the dark deeds” for the benefit of his own profit, and therefore the figure of the financier hardly claims the status of a virgin pure and untouched self-interest. However, serving a short term in custody (with the huge assistance of Eileen’s unlawful lover) did not drive the young man, but rather the opposite – he angered him towards the society, which, among other things, made quite a fair verdict. It is at this point in the image of Cowperwood that the desire to become a giant, a financial tycoon capable of deciding the fate of others, arises.
The field for his new activity Cowperwood chooses the growing city of Chicago. It is the long period of life in this part of America that the second part of the trilogy is devoted to, which frankly, brightened up all the ecstatic impressions from the first work. Already in the “Financier” it becomes clear that Cowperwood is not among the saints, but in the book “Titan” the scope of his fraudulent, low and treacherous actions reaches its apogee. In addition, the book clearly violated the dynamic structure, the culmination is completely absent, as well as clear ideological. In “Titan” there is no such episode with the court and the conclusion of an event that would explain the whole idea of the writer, therefore from the aesthetic and plot point of view this book can be called unsuccessful, naturally, against the background of the success of the first work. Constant changes of Cowperwood’s mistresses, regular lies and hypocrisy, constant throwing from one “camp” to another, eventually bribing politicians and bloodthirsty indulgence of their own greed simply turn away from the image of the main character. If Dreiser’s idea consisted only in this, a low bow to him, however, I am inclined to another option. The result of all this dubious activity of Cowperwood was the creation of a multi-million empire, but the price was paid very high: the ruin of relations with Eileen, the lack of family, friends and reliable support, rejection in society, war on all fronts with colleagues in activities, lost elections, hobbies. It turns out that this is the price a person is willing to pay for his wealth.
Time does not spare even the most great people, and now Cowperwood stands on the threshold of old age. He wants to put a fatty point in his financial activities – to stretch his transport networks and on another continent, and in matters of the souls finally come together with a new love – Berenice. But from the very beginning, all these undertakings are given to him very hard, the business is crumpled, no noticeable improvements are seen on any of the fronts: the construction of a metro in London requires huge expenses and the attraction of generously-minded specialists; cohabitation with a young girl Berenice looks no less problematic due to the age difference, position in society and the current marriage alliance with Eileen. The untimely death of the businessman interrupted everything conceived on the way to their accomplishment. Cowperwood did not manage to complete much, but on the other hand, after himself, he left a huge mark both in the history and in the destinies of many people.
Of course, with this whole story, Dreiser wanted to emphasize the futility of human suffering associated with a constant desire for profit. The wealth of Cowperwood melted just a few years after his death, no less greedy bankers, lawyers and guarantors took everything in their corners like rats – easy prey on burrows. To me, the fate of Cowperwood resembles the story of Jay Gatsby: the life of Frank Cowperwood was such a large-scale celebration, the place on which there were many notable figures, but they were not attracted by the brilliance of human nature, but by the radiance of the coot.