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Free Study Guide for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

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AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY FREE BOOK SUMMARY

BOOK TWO

CHAPTER THREE

Summary

Clyde, now 20, fled Kansas City and the scene of the overturned Packard three years ago. He now lives in Chicago and had grown up somewhat in the intervening years, given the hardships heís faced and the demand to be more self-reliant. He originally went to Saint Louis to hide and there found out that the girl was indeed killed and was part of a well-to-do-family. Sparser, charged with larceny and homicide, named everyone in the car; both he and Laura Sipe were recovering in a hospital and under arrest. Parents of the youths involved were informed of what their children were up to: the mothers of Ratterer, Hegglund, and Clyde all insisted it was a mistake and that their boys were good if misguided. From Saint Louis, Clyde wandered to different Midwest cities doing menial labor, finally settling as a delivery wagon driver in Chicago under the name Harry Tenet. Missing his family, especially his mother, Clyde writes to Elvira to explain his side of the story, ask how the family is doing, and to assure her heís okay. Elvira writes back, detailing her suffering and suggesting Clyde look up his uncle Samuel in Lycurgus.

A couple of months later, while making a delivery at the Union League Club, Clyde runs into Thomas Ratterer, now an employee at the club. The two agree to meet after work, which is when Ratterer reveals that Hortense ran off to New York City with a guy who worked in a cigar store, wearing a new fur coat. Ratterer offers to get Clyde a job at the Union League but there arenít any vacancies at present. That said, he does secure Clyde a bell-hop job at the Great Northern a few days after their reunion, and in three months a vacancy at the Union League opens up for Clyde. Clyde notices that unlike the Green-Davidson and the Great Northern, there was no sexual activity at the all-male Union League Club. The quiet sobriety and practicality of the place impresses Clyde, who aspires to similar values in the hopes of moving up in the world.


Notes

While it isnít stated point blank, we may assume the cigar store employee that Hortense ran off with was Charlie Wilkens. Dreiser overtly plays with the idea of an inevitability to the American tragedy of the title, as the last paragraph of the chapter indicates that Clydeís aspirations to a more circumspect and restrained life is beyond his personality to achieve.


CHAPTER FOUR

Summary

Clyde believes what held him back from success is his lack of education. Soon after starting at the Union League, Clyde is informed by Ratterer of an arrival to Chicago and the club: Samuel Griffiths. Clyde is anxious of what Samuel would think of him, a bell-hop. After spying on him from a distance, Clyde delivers letters to Samuelís room and introduces himself as a relation. Samuel feels bad about Asa, who was physically and mentally less fit than Samuel or their older brother Allen. Where Samuel and Allen inherited most of their fatherís property, Asa received a mere one thousand dollars.

Asked about his fatherís current activities, Clyde lies: he says they run a church with a lodging house, both of which are prospering. Clyde asks Samuel for a job at the collar factory in Lycurgus, which both pleases and takes aback his uncle. He considers it and the next day tells Clyde that if thereís an opening, heíll be notified. After returning to Lycurgus, Samuel confers with Gilbert and decides to start Clyde with the shrinking process in the basement. A week later, Samuel sends Clyde a letter, telling him of the job, asking him to give ten daysí notice before arriving, and that he should report to Gilbert upon arriving. Clyde is pleased, notifies Samuel of his imminent arrival, and soon enough shows up, wandering the business center of Lycurgus.

Notes

Like Dreiser himself, Clyde has an erratic education; unlike Dreiser, he does nothing to address this shortcoming. Samuel and Gilbert both believe in the value of a rigid class system and that such a system supersedes blood relations. Money is difficult to earn and a strict work ethic not only enriched one financially, but also mentally and spiritually. In that sense, these men have a belief system that drives their lives as strongly as Asaís religion drives his life.

 

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