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Free Study Guide for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

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BOOK SUMMARY FOR AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY

BOOK ONE

CHAPTER EIGHT

Summary

Clyde resists giving too much of his salary to his parents, instead using it on himself. His parents, unfamiliar with the world Clyde now inhabits, are easily deceived and believe he is making less than he actually earns. Hegglund informs Clyde of a planned outing to dinner and a brothel, held on monthly payday evenings. So when he and Ratterer invite Clyde to a “joy-night” supper at Frissell’s, Clyde agrees despite being morally conflicted. After all, he now believes himself entitled to some pleasure in life.


Notes

While Clyde’s parents are largely unaware of what goes on in large hotels, Clyde is almost as ignorant. The only difference is in his willingness to take part in such a world, something his parents do not share. Thus, his reaction to the “joy-night” supper is hesitant but also intrigued, aware of the moral lapses involved but strongly tempted by such behavior.


CHAPTER NINE

Summary

The night of the dinner arrives and Clyde joins the group; the others are Hegglund, Ratterer, Shiel, Higby, and Kinsella. While walking to Frissell’s, Hegglund recounts a Green-Davidson customer who arrived with a young woman he falsely claimed was his wife, only to leave her behind with a very high bill. At Frissell’s, Clyde drinks alcohol for the first time - Rhine wine and seltzer, a mild drink that Ratterer chose for himself. The group fondly discusses previous experiences at the brothel, which they visited before. After dinner, they walk to the nondescript house of ill repute and are let into a waiting room. Nine women in various kinds of bedroom clothing are called into the room by the Madam.

Notes

The bell hops had heard from cab drivers that Frissell’s is one of the best places in town, and thus believe it. They are highly susceptible to the opinions of others, especially when dealing with issues of status and pleasure. In that sense, they’re as ignorant as Clyde’s parents - unaware of higher standards and more refined pleasures, they believe what they have is the best. Clyde starts out light with his moral lapse, with a very mild alcoholic drink. However, it will only worsen as the night’s plans clearly indicate.


CHAPTER TEN

Summary

Clyde is both scandalized and attracted to how quickly intimate relations are formed between customers (his friends) and clients (the women). A blonde approaches him, asking him to dance; he refuses as he doesn’t know how, but she gets him to buy them both drinks. Clyde now has a whiskey. She recognizes the crowd Clyde’s with - specifically Hegglund - but opines that he’s different, more refined, than the rest of his group. In turn, Clyde thinks this girl is better than the other women here, and wonders if she’s had problems like Esta. He then notices the other couples had gone off to separate rooms; the blonde takes her to her own room and disrobes.

Notes

The prostitute is taking advantage of Clyde’s inexperience, making him feel special. Note how the narration shifts to Clyde's perspective, emphasizing the change in attitude and perception as he becomes more and more enamored of the girl.

 

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