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Free Study Guide for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

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Saturday is a half-day of work and pay envelopes are handed out. Dillard has to work, so Clyde decides to take a trolley to visit the nearby city of Gloversville. Sunday, Dillard is unexpectedly called home to Fonda, so Clyde does nothing instead of having the promised private dance party. Monday, Dillard tells Clyde of a social in the basement of the Diggby Avenue Congressional Church on Wednesday, where they can meet up with Zella Shuman and Rita Dickerman. Asked if he has a dress suit, Clyde confesses he doesn’t and considers getting one. Wednesday night, the two young men attended the social: Dillard introduces Clyde to his aunt and uncle, among others, always emphasizing Clyde’s relationship to the Samuel Griffiths.

Finally, Clyde is introduced to Zella and Rita, a meeting with a very different tone from the other attendees, more intimate and suggestive. The quartet leave for Zella’s house. Once there, Zella points out how it’s hard to hear from outside or even upstairs if people are listening to music or dancing in the den. Clyde asks why dancing is such a big deal, Zella explains it’s mostly church people who object. They do indeed dance and soon pair off to Dillard and Zella, Clyde and Rita. Zella and Dillard disappear for a long while to fetch a drink, while Rita and Clyde start to kiss.


Clyde’s penchant for traveling is emphasized in the trip to Gloversville, a habit that will eventually bring him to an intimate meeting with Roberta Alden - as well as later provide a means for the two to meet without being caught.



Clyde is both excited by his contact with Rita and worried of its consequences, though both regain their composure when Dillard and Zella return from fetching their drink. At 2 AM, Rita has to go home; Dillard decides to stay with Zella, so Clyde escorts Rita, still unsure despite the young woman’s ardor. Now five weeks since Clyde arrived to Lycurgus, Samuel Griffiths asks Gilbert how his nephew is doing. Gilbert opines that Clyde may be looking for favors because of the family relationship, which Samuel doesn’t quite believe. He decides to invite Clyde over for dinner the following Sunday; Gilbert makes sure he has another appointment and can only be present briefly for said dinner. Back at Mrs. Cuppy’s, Dillard proposes a weekend trip with the Girls, which Clyde demurs on, fearful of rumors of his behavior getting back to Gilbert.

Soon after, an invitation arrives from Elizabeth Griffiths, requesting Clyde’s presence for Sunday dinner and confirming Clyde’s decision to stay aloof from Dillard and his friends. Interest in getting to know his relatives quickly diminishes any romantic plans he had for Rita. Sunday arrives and Clyde finally meets his aunt, who mentions his parents, whom she’s never met. Samuel greets Clyde, asks how he’s doing, and Clyde expresses a wish to move up in the company. Clyde meets Myra, who is cordial; Gilbert drops by, but must leave soon for an auto drive with friends.


Elizabeth shares the same initials as Clyde’s mother. Like Elvira, Elizabeth is protective of her son and wishes him the best. However, what they see as being the best is different - Elizabeth looks out for Clyde’s status in the factory and in Lycurgus in general, while Elvira is concerned with her son’s moral and spiritual values.



When dinner is served, Gilbert departs. Elizabeth asks if Bella has phoned, as she has yet to appear. Questions are asked about Clyde’s father and the hotel business, which embarrasses Clyde. Bella finally arrives, bringing two friends with her, Sondra Finchley and Bertine Cranston. Clyde is immediately smitten with Sondra, who has her dog with her, a French bull named Bissell. Introductions are made, Sondra and Bertine whisper to each other of Clyde’s resemblance to Gilbert but that Clyde is better looking - and more malleable, as opposed to Gilbert’s strong-willed, contemptuous personality. The two girls are invited to stay, but Bertine has to make sure her horse receives some medical attention - a problem that greatly impresses Clyde. Myra tries to be friendly to Clyde and as a result he felt more comfortable with her, preferring her company for the rest of the evening. As Clyde leaves at the end of the night, Samuel mentions inviting him again in a few weeks. Clyde is elated at this prospect.


There are two qualities to Clyde that make him attractive to Sondra and Bertine: he is better looking than Gilbert but also more malleable. This reflects a desire to control, similar to why Hortense kept Clyde as a boyfriend in Book One. Such weakness is an asset for Clyde in this respect, but it also leads to his inability to take action when it’s necessary later in Book Two.


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