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Free Study Guide for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

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BOOK TWO

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Summary

Time passes, and Clyde’s hope for further contact with his uncle’s family diminishes. He considers leaving Lycurgus and going back to hotel work. Then, one springtime Saturday, Samuel sees Clyde doing his work in the shrinking department and is alarmed at the sight of someone so closely resembling Gilbert doing manual labor. He talks to Gilbert, ordering him to get Clyde a better position and raise his salary from $15 to $25. Gilbert confers with Whiggam and they decide to make Clyde an assistant foreman of the stamping room, which involves overseeing the girls who stamp sizes and brands on the collars before they’re passed on the stitching department. This foreman must also keep records so that the workers are paid commensurately for their piecework. Whiggam fears that Clyde is too inexperienced with such work or would be susceptible to the charms of the young women working under him, but decides a re-transfer can happen if that becomes the case.

Gilbert calls in Clyde, telling him of the promotion and raise, but making it sound like a favor and not Samuel’s mandate. Whiggam and Mr. Liggett take Clyde to the stamping room, where Miss Todd explains the job to him. Whiggam and Clyde return to Gilbert, who asks if Clyde can handle the assignment. Clyde affirms that he can. Gilbert points out how women greatly outnumber men in the factory and that they must be treated civilly at all times, but also must always be aware they are workers in the employ of the company. Gilbert then asks if Clyde can avoid being swayed by the women and Clyde promises his good conduct. Clyde goes home ecstatic, setting Dillard and Rita completely behind him.

Notes

Samuels’ decision to promote Clyde is not out of sympathy for his nephew, but for fear out of how Clyde’s similar looks will reflect on his son Gilbert. Again, we see how Samuel is more concerned with business and his immediate family than Clyde’s well-being.



CHAPTER TWELVE

Summary

Clyde is pleased with his new situation: earning $25 a week, 25 women working under him, and wearing a suit to work instead of shirtsleeves. Whiggam and Liggett defer to him, as all sense that Clyde is apparently on an upward track. Now that summer is underway, the rich of Lycurgus are spending their weekends at their resort homes by the lakes. Clyde reads in the Lycurgus Star of what the Samuel Griffiths family are doing and watches them in an annual intercity automobile floral parade. Sondra is there as well, and his interest in her remains unabated.

Clyde leaves Mrs. Cuppy’s boarding house and moves into a room in a Mrs. Peyton’s house on Jefferson Avenue, closer to Wykeagy. However, Clyde is tempted by some of the girls working under him; and as he is well-dressed, good-looking, their superior, and the only man in their presence all day, some of the girls are smitten by him, as well. He’s able to resist such temptation, however, until Roberta Alden enters his employ. Unlike the other, less refined girls, Roberta seemed more intelligent, pleasing, and spiritual to Clyde, of a better class that made her more acceptable. Roberta’s family hails from Biltz, but she more recently lived in Trippetts Mills, where she worked at a hosiery factory. When Clyde hires Roberta, his extra attention to her is noticed by the other girls, including a now jealous Ruza Nikoforitch.

Notes

Dreiser goes out of his way to emphasize the ethnic mix among the workers employed in the stamping room under Clyde.


CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Summary

Roberta is the daughter of Titus Alden, who was the youngest of three brothers. Tutus led a life of uninformed conformity, a farmer because his father was a farmer, but also a strongly moral and religious man. Roberta was more than ambitious than her father: she worked at a dry goods store, then moved to Trippetts Mill to work at the hosiery factory. When her young sister Agnes became engaged, Roberta feared for her own future and moved with her friend Grace Marr from Trippetts Mill to Lycurgus. All along, her wages helped her family and, while she hoped to save enough to further her education, was unable to do so as yet. Life in Lycurgus was very narrow, however, as she was boarding with the strictly religious George and Mary Newton, who were Grace’s brother-in-law and sister. So while shocked at the loose men and women she saw on Lycurgus’ streets at night, she also felt lonely and yearned for more in her life. Now working at the Griffiths factory under Clyde, she felt hopeful again.

Notes

Titus makes for an interesting comparison to the other two fathers in the novel, Asa Griffiths and Samuel Griffiths. If Asa is the dissipated dreamer and Samuel the aggressive businessman, Titus falls somewhere in-between. He has neither Samuel’s business resolve or Asa’s spiritual impulses, which propelled the Griffiths brothers down two very different paths in life. Instead, Titus is guided by a kind of native tradition, continuing the path set out by his community and family and seeing no alternative to such a path. However, this lack of imagination also provides a kind of strength, as his unquestioning belief in traditional moral values provides clear guidance for how he should go about his life.

 

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