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Free Study Guide for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

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AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY STUDY NOTES

BOOK TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY

Summary

For several weeks, Clyde and Roberta continue to meet outside Lycurgus, maintaining their safety from prying local eyes. However, the prospect of Roberta’s room and the privacy it could afford the couple, was present in their minds. Roberta still thought of Clyde’s higher social and occupational position and wondered what exactly his intentions were for her. Early October, six weeks after Roberta moved to the Gilpin home, Clyde suggests that he visit her room once the Gilpin family had gone to bed. Roberta refuses this possibility - she had been careful about keeping Clyde at a distance from the house, so that their relationship can remain secret. To have him come into the home would not only be risky to her, but what would follow was also immoral, offensive to her nature even now. At her refusal, Clyde immediately grew angry. The two argued, Clyde contending that Roberta was too cautious, that they only did what she wanted and not what he wished. He asked why she moved out of the Newton house in the first place. Roberta said it was so they could meet on the weekends more easily; Clyde answers that with autumn setting in, such weekend meetings outside Lycurgus were becoming pointless. Roberta held her ground, refusing to let Clyde in. Enraged, Clyde leaves Roberta, who was torn between violating her moral upbringing and assuaging the pain she felt at Clyde’s departure.


Notes

Clyde becomes more forceful with Roberta and wishes to exploit her feelings for him. He has, in effect, become more like Hortense, withholding his approval in order to gain more favors: but where Hortense was interested in material gain from Clyde, Clyde desires sexual favors from Roberta. Clyde’s manipulations are also as subtle as Hortense: he helped convince Roberta to leave the Newtons and the clear moral boundaries they enforced; now that she is outside of that household and its boundaries, Clyde tries to convince her to go even further now that the opportunity - an opportunity he helped bring about - is available.


CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

Summary

In her room alone, Roberta agonizes over her decision to grant Clyde entry. On the one hand, he made valid points about the weather limiting their choices for being together in secret; on the other hand, she did not want to become a “bad girl” and go against what she’d been taught all her life. She also feared Clyde’s behavior the following morning at the factory, that he would treat her coldly and ignore her. This disturbed her deeply enough that she stayed awake and convince herself he would never do such a thing. For his part, Clyde was still deeply attracted to Roberta but instinctively knew the various advantages he had over her. Thus, the next morning Roberta’s fears were confirmed: not only was Clyde acting indifferently towards her, he flirted with the other girls in the stamping department. Finally, she wrote a note and slipped it to Clyde in secret, asking him to forgive her and to meet her that evening. Clyde finally looked at her in a loving manner and, despite compromising herself morally, Roberta was relieved and filled with love for him.

Notes

The hold Clyde exerts over Roberta is twofold: professionally and romantically. Though Clyde does nothing to make Roberta's workplace more difficult, their very interaction in that setting allows for expressions of disapproval that upsets Roberta and makes her capitulate.

 

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