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Discussion – Dreiser’s “The Second Choice”
Dreiser is known as one of the great naturalist writers in American history. Throughout his career, he develops three great themes as he explores the idea of naturalism:
a) While the individual may believe he/she is exercising free will in making choices about their lives, all their choices are premised on endless temptations offered by society.
b) Certain individuals, through their personality, strength, and will power, can survive within our brutal, competitive society, and can dominate weaker people.
c) Only groups, banning together, can fight against social forces that serve to ruin people, especially those of the lower economic class.
1. Although Shirley makes the choice to pursue Barton, how is her choice not “really” her choice? Find 2 passages where Shirley reveals the reasons she feels her choice is forced upon her. In your answer, identify the social forces that have, literally, forced her choice.
(Hint: Economics and Social Class are large social forces that limit Shirley’s life. Also, naturalists, like Dreiser, were influenced by Darwin’s idea of evolution. So, the biological need to reproduce—continue the human species—plays a role in this story too.)
2. The theme of domination is expressed in the relationships among Arthur, Shirley, and Barton. Who dominates who and why does this domination occur? Find 2 passages that support your answer.
(Hint: Find one passage for Barton and Shirley. Find a different passage for Shirley and Arthur. Recall item b) above. All relationships in a Dreiser story involve domination.)
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