Free Study Guide for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser|
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AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY ONLINE STUDY GUIDE
In the same manner that Book One’s opening chapter introduces the Asa Griffiths
family, Book Two introduces the Samuel Griffiths family. At one point,
Gilbert admonishes Bella against using slang, saying she’ll sound like
a factory girl. There are rules of conduct in the Samuel Griffiths home;
unlike the Asa Griffiths home, those rules are determined by social and
class-based expectations, not spiritual uplift. The city name Lycurgus
is a sly take on the manner in which upstate New York uses the names of
ancient Rome for their own cities and towns: rather than referring to
a place, however, the best known Lycurgus from ancient times was a Spartan
lawmaker who helped bring order and reform to his militaristic city. Similarly,
Clyde would come to upstate New York and face judgments of his own abilities,
including the restraint and composure often associated with ancient Spartans.
Samuel Griffiths, unlike his brother Asa, was a success, arriving at Lycurgus 25 years ago and started his collar business. His demeanor reflects this difference, as well - unlike the dissipated Asa, Samuel is forceful and superior in his attitude. Arriving home, Samuel is greeted by Bella, who proceeds to tell him of Twelfth Lake and the Finchleys. Samuel is interested because of the expenses involved and what that says of the Finchleys’ finances. Upstairs, Samuel greets his wife and Gilbert asks to see him tomorrow during business hours about a certain matter.
Joined by Myra, they all proceeded to dinner. Amid the usual family banter,
Samuel announces that while in Chicago, he met the son of his brother
Asa, a bellhop who looked a good deal like Gilbert. Gilbert is annoyed
by the comparison, Myra and Bella are made curious about this previously
unheard-of relation; Bella suggest Gilbert is jealous of someone looking
like him, which Gilbert denies. Samuel wants to give Clyde a start at
the factory, if no one in his family objected. Nobody objects, including
Gilbert. Samuel insists that Clyde be treated like any other employee,
that he get no favors simply because he’s a relation.
While he clearly cares for his immediate family, Samuel Griffiths’ predominant concern is business and finances. Thus, he does not come home immediately after his return from Chicago but stops into his factory’s office to get some work done. Then he is less concerned about news of the Finchley summer home than the implication that a good deal of money is involved. Last, and perhaps most significant, Samuel is determined to not treat Clyde any better than any other employee if he works in the factory.
While such a work ethic is a kind of strength, it also keeps him from becoming more involved in Clyde’s life and perhaps averting what happens between Clyde and Roberta. All of this does not mean Samuel has no conscience; if anything, he is the one member in his family who feels obliged to help Clyde and see to his welfare. However, the extent to which he feels obliged is considerably less than what Clyde himself expects from his uncle.
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Mescallado, Ray. "TheBestNotes on An American Tragedy".
. 09 May 2017