Will You Walk Into My Parlor by Theodore Dreiser
Naturalism in writing, a genre that originated at the beginning of the last century, is characterized by a heightened version of realism such that the reader is confronted with a highly un-polished view of the worst that humanity has to offer. One of the most prominant naturalist writers was Theodore Dreiser, a literary giant at a time when naturalism was extremely popular with the literate masses.
Naturalism consists of five conventions:
- Observation of life without interpretation which shows people as pawns of a higher force
- The attempt to make literature a document of society through the description of details at great length so as to make the world palpable to the reader
- The conscious suppression of literary conventions and techniques in favor of science
- A concern with the less elegant aspects of life through an emphasis on the brutal, animalistic, and survivalistic aspects
- The promotion of a socialistic or radical philosophy.
Theodore Dreiser has been considered to be the premier naturalistic writer.
Dreisers work, Will You Walk Into My Parlor? is prime example of this genre. Though critically panned, the short story provides the reader with an unforgettable lesson, that life, when lived by greed and thirst for power, ends in loneliness and weakness. Parlor is the story of a politico who, in the pursuit of power and influence, is brought down by blackmail…a trap of which he was forewarned, had significant time to disarm, and still sprung on himself, almost willingly. Dreiser foreshadows every horror to befall the characters so as to let the reader know that these people are being made blind by their greed. It is through the process of wanting more than one has, that Gregory is reduced. In the beginning of the story, he has a wife, a family, a job, and those things in life which can make it satisfying. But, as is the case with the majority of people, a point which Dreiser went to great lengths to point out, our nature is flawed in that we are never satisfied with what we have. The assumption is that there is always something more or better to be had. Politically, Dreiser’s story has a staying power that does indeed resonate today. As Gregory is caught, bit by bit in the web of scandal, intrigue, and blackmail, his ability to escape, like the insects that are caught in the web, grew less and less, finally reaching the point of complete failure. The spider, in this story, is the embodiment of the invisible and visible political and social power exercised by those that have it as demonstrated by Mrs. Skelton, Imogene, and those that provide the deeper influences. Lives become a game to the powerful, who are adept at exploiting the very baseness of human nature.