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Free Study Guide for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

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AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY FREE ONLINE BOOK SUMMARY

BOOK TWO

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Summary

Wednesday night, Roberta tells Grace and the Newtons that she can’t attend a church social with them, as she was going to visit Mrs. Braley from the collar factory to learn stitching (an actual promotion opportunity offered to her by Mr. Liggett). Instead, of course, she was preparing to meet Clyde that evening. Clyde was feeling confident: unlike his pursuit of Hortense Briggs, he had advantages that made him more at ease. Roberta meets him, they walk around and talk, Clyde noting how simple and straightforward she was, so different from Hortense and Rita Dickerman. Clyde confesses his love for Roberta and, though she resists, he presses on until she admits to loving him as well.

Notes

Roberta is upset that her wardrobe doesn’t compare as well to that of other girls in Lycurgus, though it sufficed in Biltz and Trippett Mills.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Summary

Clyde and Roberta know their first meeting is only the start of something bigger, but Roberta has to deal with Grace Marr and the Newtons. Grace had become Roberta’s constant companion, something Grace had already tired of, while the Newtons always invited the two girls to whatever social events they attended. Thankfully, Roberta already dispelled any notions Grace may have had about a romance with Clyde: the Monday after the three went canoeing on Lake Crum, Grave brought up the possibility of Clyde being interested in Roberta, only to have Roberta dismiss the notion and pointing out that he was Roberta’s boss and the company strictly forbade such romances. In the present, considering how she and Clyde can meet again, Roberta decides to tell Grace and the Newtons that she will spend a weekend visiting her sister Agnes in Homer, stopping in Fonda to rendezvous with Clyde for several hours. As she needs to contact her sister first, it will have to be the weekend after the upcoming one.

Clyde is impatient about spending time with Roberta and asks if she can lie to the Newtons and tell them she’ll be attending a different church on Sundays, and instead meeting him during that time. Roberta’s moral background is still firm, however, and she’s upset by such a blasphemous suggestion. Clyde backs off, and Roberta forgives him his over-eagerness. They part for the evening, Roberta anxious about returning home before the Newtons and Grace. Roberta and Clyde meet a second time under the pretense of Roberta studying under Mrs. Braley.

The weekend of the visit to Agnes comes, and as planned Roberta meets Clyde in Fonda. They walk to Starlight, a pleasure park, and while riding the merry-go-round, Clyde convinces Roberta to go dancing; Roberta is unsure of this forbidden amusement, but Clyde explains that he comes from a strict religious background but has learned how to dance - and besides, it’s quite common among young people now. So the two go to the dancing pavilion, enjoying themselves greatly. Finally, Roberta has to get on the evening train from Fonda to Homer, but not before making plans with Clyde to meet her again in Fonda, on the return trip to Lycurgus the next day. However, another visit to Roberta’s relations cannot happen anytime soon and Clyde tries to come up with a way for them to meet in secret in Lycurgus.

Notes

Roberta still draws clear boundaries between herself and Clyde: she will not blaspheme by claiming to attend church when she doesn’t, not will she spend the night with Clyde when they meet outside of town. However, her moral rectitude is slowly chipped away by Clyde, who introduces her to dancing. It’s significant to note that at a similar point in Book Two, Clyde was the uninitiated youth who did not know how to dance and had to be taught by a more knowledgeable - and less moral - person.


CHAPTER NINETEEN

Summary

The young lovers meet as planned, considering themselves undetected. Back in Lycurgus late in the evening, Roberta answers some questions from a sleepy Grace, but it’s left at that. During Monday evening’s dinner with the Newtons, however, two other boards - Opal Feliss and Olive Pope - ask if it was Roberta they saw dancing in Starlight Park this past weekend, as they were visiting Fonda as well. Roberta admits to this, claiming she had gone with friends of her sister, denying that the man she was seen with was from Lycurgus. Grace is upset at being lied to; she confronts Roberta, who decides to move out of the Newton house.

Two days later, she finds a house on Elm Street letting out a room; speaking with the lady of the house, Mrs. Gilpin, she sees the family is not nearly as strict as the Newtons. The room for rent gave her a good deal of privacy, allowing her to enter and leave through the living room, relatively unwatched. Roberta is scared of moving, of entering an unfamiliar situation likes this, and is fearful of her family’s reaction if they find out what she’s been up to. However, her desire to spend time with Clyde overrode these concerns, and the Newtons accepted her departure as she apparently disregarded their standards of behavior. Roberta wrote to her mother, explaining that she left the Newtons because Grace was growing too attached to her, and that the new room she rented would be able to accommodate visits from family members. While this was all true, she knew her real motives involved Clyde, and this worried her because their behavior was so dangerous.

Notes

Grace is more upset about Roberta’s secrecy than about her questionable activities with Clyde, though she uses moral grounds to condemn Roberta. In this way, Dreiser shows two things: that for young people, social concerns often override other ideals, as seen by the more questionable decisions made by Clyde throughout the book; and that some people will use moral outrage to hide other motives, as seen by Clyde’s trial in Book Three.

 

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