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Accident SocietyFiction, Collectivity, and the Production of Chance$
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Jason Puskar

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780804775359

Published to Stanford Scholarship Online: June 2013

DOI: 10.11126/stanford/9780804775359.001.0001

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Performing the Accident on Purpose

Performing the Accident on Purpose

Chapter:
(p.187) Chapter 5 Performing the Accident on Purpose
Source:
Accident Society
Author(s):

Theodore Dreiser

James Cain

Publisher:
Stanford University Press
DOI:10.11126/stanford/9780804775359.003.0006

In the early twentieth century, insurance crime emerged as a social phenomenon that signals not only a sociological shift in criminality but also indicates a radical change in thinking about the nature of accidents. This chapter focuses on two novels that reveal how literature is involved in the production of chance: Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy (1925) and James Cain's Double Indemnity (1936). Dreiser and Cain literalize the production of chance with their depictions of criminal accident fraud. For Dreiser, this signaled the end of his own realist project. For Cain, however, it raised the possibility that accident production might function as a valuable mode of public performance art in America's emergent welfare state. Cain's Double Indemnity is a classic example of a related subgenre of crime fiction, the falsified accident novel, in which crime masquerades as a matter of chance. Dreiser's An American Tragedy represents the accident as a criminal plot. In different ways, the two novels spell the end of an earlier phase of realism.

Keywords:   crime, insurance, chance, accidents, Theodore Dreiser, An American Tragedy, James Cain, Double Indemnity, realism, welfare state

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