Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945), was born in Terre Haute, Indiana into a large, poor family. He spent 1889-1890 at U. of Indiana. Worked as a journalist before moving to New York City in 1894. In New York, worked in publishing, culminating in an editorship at Butterick Publishing. His first novel, Sister Carrie, was published in 1900, but was not circulated too much because his editor hated it. Began writing full time after the success of his 1912 novel, Jennie Gerhardt. His most known work, An American Tragedy was published in 1925. Towards the end of his life, Dreiser became interested in socialism and visited the Soviet Union.

Dreiser believed that all human actions have two basic sources; responses to external variables (for instance, a man drinks water because there is no beer), or internal drives called 'chemisms' - we would call them the id; lust, greed, hunger, thirst, etc. In the book Sister Carrie he describes the title character as a 'waif amid forces'. She does not act upon her environment, but is instead pushed through life by the actions of those around her. This, Dreiser believed, was the human experience in a nutshell. This philosophy is also referred to as naturalism.