Cliff Notes™, Cliffs Notes™, Cliffnotes™, Cliffsnotes™ are trademarked properties of the John Wiley Publishing Company. does not provide or claim to provide free Cliff Notes™ or free Sparknotes™. Free Cliffnotes™ and Free Spark Notes™ are trademarked properties of the John Wiley Publishing Company and Barnes & Noble, Inc., respectively. has no relation. Free Summary / Study Guide / Book Summaries / Literature Notes / Analysis / Synopsis
+Larger Font+
-Smaller Font-

Free Study Guide for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

Previous Page | Table of Contents | Next Page
Downloadable / Printable Version





Clyde and Roberta would spend time alone in her room, in secret, and engaged in sexual acts. Roberta knew this was a sin and, despite the pleasure she derived from it, she was also concerned about Clyde’s future intentions for her. Did he wish to marry her, or was she merely a temporary plaything for him? If she was willing to have sex with him, wouldn’t there have been others before her? For his part, Clyde was filled with new confidence in his manhood and wasn’t as focused on the doings of the Samuel Griffiths family and their social set. However, as summer drew to a close and the upper class of Lycurgus returned from their resorts, he began to wonder if Roberta was worthy of him, if - despite her charm and intelligence - she was too far below what he aspired to reach as a Griffiths.


Though the allusions to sexual acts are very mild by today's standards, the very notion of young unmarried people having sex often went completely unmentioned in Dreiser's time.



From his home at Mrs. Peyton’s, Clyde passed Wykeagy Avenue daily and began walking through there on a regular basis to admire the beautiful homes and imagine himself fitting in such society. While the local high society did not pay attention to him, other people did, such as Rudolph Smillie, a vice-president at the collar factory who spoke with Clyde about joining a local golf club. One November night, taking a walk down Wykeagy before a late night meeting with Roberta, he was stopped by a young woman in a chauffeured car. It was Sondra Finchley, who had initially mistaken Clyde for Gilbert and offered to give him a ride home. She didn’t like Gilbert, but eligible young men in their social circles were a rare commodity, so courtesy was only natural. When she saw it was actually Clyde, she stuck with her offer to give him a ride and he agreed. She confessed to finding him preferable to Gilbert and also noted how Gilbert’s family paid little attention to Clyde. For his part, Clyde told her how she looked like an angel during the parade this past summer. Dropping Clyde off at Mrs. Peyton’s, Sondra rode off, wondering why exactly Clyde was treated like a pariah by the Griffiths.


Sondra mistakes Clyde for Gilbert, perhaps the most significant example of this in the novel. Given their very different social positions, it’s very likely that Sondra would not have spoken to Clyde otherwise, never mind providing a chance for the two to speak in such an intimate manner. Again, note how this pattern of mistaking the two Griffiths cousins has long been established by Dreiser, as well as Clyde’s proclivity for walking along Wykeagy Avenue, Thus, this encounter is as inevitable as Clyde’s meeting with Roberta at the lake.



The chance meeting of Clyde and Sondra had a profound impact on both. Clyde is re-awakened with a desire to move up in the world, both socially and romantically. As a result, he decides not to meet with Roberta that night, after all, making up an excuse for why he couldn’t do so. Sondra is intrigued by Clyde and speaks of him with Jill Trumbull, who brings up the conversation later with her sister Gertrude and brother Tracy. Mention of Gilbert’s likely discomfort about Clyde’s resemblance to him only serves to provoke Sondra. In the close circles of Lycurgus’ upper class, word of these opinions eventually reach Constance Wynant, Gilbert’s fiancée. She informs him of what was being said, Gilbert responds with some cutting words about Clyde and Sondra, and Constance makes sure that what Gilbert said would reach Sondra’s ears.

Wishing revenge, Sondra wishes to antagonize Gilbert by bringing Clyde into their social circle. However, not wanting to reveal her hand in such a deed, she has Jill Trumbull host a dinner and dance at her house for the Now & Then Club, an unofficial club composed of the elite children who’ve attended the Snedeker School. Jill would not only host the dinner and dance on the first Thursday of December but make sure to invite Clyde. Further, Sondra arranges that not only herself, but Bertine, Jill, and Gertrude will all pay attention to Clyde, thus ensuring a smoother acceptance by the other members of the club. Thus, two weeks after the encounter with Sondra, Clyde comes home from work to find the dinner invitation from Jill Trumbull, but with a personal note from Sondra written on the back.

Clyde is elated at the possibility of a romance with Sondra, reminding himself that no clear commitment was made with Roberta. He wonders what the Griffiths would think of his presence at the party, believing that Gilbert would object but the others would accept this as proof of his worthiness. Clyde decides again to avoid a planned meeting with Roberta that evening, too full of feeling for Sondra and his new social prospects.


Clyde is a pawn for Sondra to get back at Gilbert, just as Gilbert uses Constance to lash back at both Sondra and Clyde for their temerity.


Previous Page | Table of Contents | Next Page
Downloadable / Printable Version

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser Free BookNotes Summary

Privacy Policy
All Content Copyright©TheBestNotes. All Rights Reserved.
No further distribution without written consent.
138 Users Online | This page has been viewed 15326 times
This page was last updated on 5/9/2017 8:50:00 AM

Cite this page:

Mescallado, Ray. "TheBestNotes on An American Tragedy". . 09 May 2017