American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

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An American Tragedy
Megan Kerns
October 20, 2011
ECI 430, Paul Harvey Project

John was born May 10, 1838 on a farm outside Baltimore, Maryland. He was the fifth of six surviving children. John enjoyed his childhood, but his father was haunted by alcoholism and spells of madness. His father had often been dismissed as a crazy and drunken actor. Like most children, John aspired to follow in his father’s footsteps; therefore, John blossomed into a performing actor and like his father suffered from an extreme case of alcoholism. Growing up on a farm in Maryland meant that John had been born into a world in which slavery was apart of the accepted order of things. Like most of the community, he believed that blacks were incapable of living alongside whites. John was a firm believer of Southern tradition and the institution of slavery. He was raised by hands of white supremacists and fostered those ideals through out the end of his life. As a southern white male, the idea of white superiority filtered through his veins and established a way of life. Not long after his father’s death, John began his acting career. As a beginning actor, he received a lot of negative criticism. He was given mixed reviews because of his father’s drunken legacy, his lack of ability to correctly recite lines, and attend practice sober. Despite John’s negative reviews, he persevered through the world of drama. At the age of seventeen, he made his first official debut, playing the Earl of Richmond in a popular adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard III. In this play, John’s character was that of a hero who destroyed a murderous tyrant. As he approached his early twenties, John had become a well known, handsome, and stunning actor in the city of Richmond, Virginia. At the age of twenty, his mother claimed he was “the handsomest man in America[1]”. John also understood women. He was one of the lucky men able to work his magic of stage and sway the hearts of young girls. His glamour and talent brought tears to the eye, reassuring him as a successful and charming young professional. John was also a natural athlete; he was a fine horseman, an acrobat and swordfighter, and a marksman with pistol and rifle. With these talents, John won over the hearts of Americans becoming one of America’s most successful actors. The young professional prospered in Richmond, Virginia, alternatively known as the capitol of the Confederate States of America. As he progressed into adulthood, he fostered a more profound passionate love for the South and its institutions. The support from his family, fellow childhood friends, and colleges reinforced his belief in white supremacy. John’s earliest political allegiance was to the American Party, otherwise known as the “Know-Nothing Party”. The party’s platform was erected from fear of a flood of Irish and German immigrants who threatened to degrade the institutions within America.

Prior to John’s twenty-seventh birthday, he took two former childhood friends to a production in Washington, DC called Our American Cousin. English playwright, Tom Taylor, wrote Our American Cousin in 1858. The production involved an awkward American and English aristocrat who ventured to England to claim their family’s estate. When John arrived at the theater, the VIP box, located directly over the stage, was decorated with two American flags draped on either side of the balcony. The box was obviously reserved for an important guest. However, the location of the box was actually the worst in the house from which to view the production, because it was angled toward the audience rather than the stage. This placement was no accident; the owners wanted their audience to have a good view of the well-known occupants of the boxes.

The show begun at 8:00 pm, however the special guests arrived fashionably late. When the party arrived, the patrons welcomed them warmly and rose to...
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