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THE TOTAL STRANGER / Theodore Dreiser Theodore Dreiser's "The Total Stranger" survives in a single typescript housed at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The top right-hand corner of the first page contains a note written in a hand other than Dreiser's: "Last typescript, with corrections—copied—1945." The typescript came from the papers owned by Marguerite Tjader, who served as Dreiser's amanuensis and editor for The Buhoark in 1944-1945. In her memoir Theodore Dreiser: A New Dimension (1965), Tjader recalls Dreiser's presenting her with "several pages of pencilled manuscripts for me to type. Then he talked on about this man [in "The Total Stranger"], and I jotted down what he said" (p. 203). As was his habit at this time, he partly wrote, partly dictated to Tjader. "The Total Stranger" can be understood best as part of what may be called Dreiser's "marriage group," his writing about the difficulties and conflicts in modern marriage. While the autobiographical novel The "Genius" (1915) is the most elaborate rendition of this theme, the group includes short fiction such as "Free," "Marriage—For One," "The Old Neighborhood," and "Convention"; essays like "Marriage and Divorce" in Hey Rub-A-Dub-Dub; and the many examples of marital incompatibility in the major works, from the domestic troubles of Hurstwood and Frank Cowperwood to those of Dreiser himself as he explores his marriage to Sara White in Neiospaper Days. "The Total Stranger" recalls the themes of Dreiser's early writing— the violence at the heart of conventional marriage, the male's "varietism," the ethics of divorce, the woman as potential victim in the battle of the sexes. Yet the story leads to a moralistic resolution that is not apparent in the earlier works. Those works explore the psychology of conflicting needs and aspirations that accompany marriage, which Dreiser represents as a tangle of economic, personal, and parental pressures. They are studies in psychological realism, using sophisticated techniques like internal dialogue and dealing with fairly complicated middle-class characters: writers, architects, financiers, Dreiser himself. In contrast, "The Total Stranger" takes the form of a sentimental moral fable of the type Dreiser would have read in the popular magazines of the late nineteenth century. As if to accommodate his subject to that model, he uses working-class characters of whom he The Missouri Review · 97 notes that "intelligence of a high order played no part in [their] composition." Dreiser's choice of a humble, even gritty, background for his story probably owes something to literary fashions established in the thirties, but it is also a more natural setting for the central character Walter, whose human needs are less abstract than the introspective subjects of Dreiser's earlier stories. Such a figure, moreover, lends himself more readily to the theme of spiritual redemption, a strong motif in Dreiser's late fiction. Here it is expressed in a kind of allegory in which Walter effectively overcomes his "double," and thereby conquers his old self. What connects "The Total Stranger" to the larger body of Dreiser's writing is the emotional longing of Walter, a pathetic drifter whose homelessness and desire for forgiveness and fulfillment link him to a long line of more famous Dreiserian yearners. Editorial Note: Dreiser did not type. Since the few typos and misspellings in the typescript cannot be traced back to their source, such blemishes have been silently corrected. The story is published with the permission of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at The University of Texas, which owns the manuscript, and the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania , who hold the copyright. Tom Riggio Speer Morgan 98 · The MISSOURI Review Theodore Dreiser HE WALKED SLOWLY and apparently speculatively, as well as dubiously eastward, along the semi-tatterdemalion street in which at one time he and Mady (Amelia) had lived—or should he say, had existed—he and she, and for reason of what? His wish? Hers? Decidedly not! Since after enduring it, and him, for all of two years and a little more—his lies, his periods of drunkenness, his pretense of being faithful to her, his pretense of being a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 97-107
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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