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Free Study Guide for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

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AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY GUIDE / PLOT SUMMARY

BOOK TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

Summary

Clyde grows distant to Roberta, which she senses. There’s a light snow the night of the Now & Then Club dinner party and Clyde is wearing some new items bought from Orrin Short, a local haberdasher he befriended. Arriving at the Trumbull home on Wykeagy Avenue, Clyde is greeted by Jill Trumbull, who welcomes him and in turn introduces him to Arabella Stark, Scott Nicholson, and Fred Harriet, among others. Conversation about college made Clyde wonder if he should claim that he attended a college in the Midwest. Gertrude Trumbull introduces herself and when she suggests that Clyde already has a girlfriend, he panics - until he realizes it was a compliment, a statement on how good looking he is and not an accusation about Roberta. Sondra finally arrives at the party with Freddie Sells; she greets Clyde and introduces Freddie, then Bertine Cranston again, and Sondra’s brother, Stuart.

Notes

Frequent comments are made about Clyde’s resemblance to Gilbert, Jill explicitly telling him that he’s the better looking of the two.


CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

Summary

Over dinner, Clyde lies, claiming that his father runs a hotel in Denver and his uncle had asked him to come to Lycurgus to learn about the collar business. Further, he was unsure if he would stay or pursue other interests, thus giving the intended impression that he was a young man of some means and not just a poor relation scraping to get by. Clyde asks if he can dance with Sondra and she instructs him to get a program so he can properly arrange for it. He confesses to following newspaper accounts about her, which she finds highly flattering, and gives him three dances for the first half. When the dance portion of the evening begins, Clyde dances with other girls, but some of them - Nina Temple and Bertine Cranston - teased him about his constant attention to Sondra, even as she danced with other boys. When he finally dances with Sondra, they talk of her interests and he pretends to have just started learning how to play tennis, as that was a clear passion for her. Sondra admonishes him for being too direct in calling her by her first name, but admits she likes him when he’s not too sentimental. The two decide to step outside to watch the snow.

Notes

Clyde again lies about his family in an attempt to impress others. Again, Clyde’s romantic encounter with a girl - this time Sondra - is stopped short, his eagerness overtaking his better judgment.



CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

Summary

Sondra was in a delicate position - while she originally wished to used Clyde to antagonize Gilbert, she also enjoyed Clyde’s admiration. His apparent lack of wealth meant she could not be overt in showing her interest, but her friends were aware of this and wished to help. Two weeks after the dance, Jill Trumbull runs into Clyde while he’s Christmas shopping and invites him to Vanda Steele’s pre-Christmas party in Gloversville. While he’ll be escorting Jill’s sister Gertrude, Jill knows that his presence will convince Sondra to give up a previous engagement and attend Vanda’s party instead. The dance would be Friday night and Gilbert already had plans to meet Roberta that evening to exchange gifts, as she would leave the next day to visit her family for the holidays. Clyde lies to Roberta, telling her that he’s been suddenly obliged to go to dinner at his uncle’s house that same night. Roberta is very disappointed but tries to be understanding, given Clyde’s position.

The night of Vanda’s party, Clyde is surprised at how his last name and being with the Trumbulls opened up further social possibilities and acceptance into this elevated social circle. Sondra arrives with some friends and pretends to be surprised at Clyde’s presence. Clyde tells her he only attended to see her. She is pleased to hear he’s accepted invitations to Frank Harriet’s house on Christmas Eve and Jessica Phant’s New Year’s Eve party in Utica, proof that he had more potential than previously thought. While previous commitments mean she won’t be in Lycurgus for Christmas - and thus not, at the Harriet party - she invites Clyde to a different New Year’s Eve party in Schenectady, which she will attend as well as Clyde’s cousin Bella. This troubles Clyde, as he’s still unsure of what the Samuel Griffiths family thinks of his forays into their social circles. When Sondra mentions the trip to Schenectady would be overnight, Clyde is further troubled as he knows that, having lost time together for Christmas, Roberta would definitely want to spend New Year’s Eve with him. Sondra warns Clyde against paying too much interest in her, lest her parents and other people disapprove of this and try to keep them apart. She says that if he can pretend to be indifferent to her in public, they can arrange to see each other more often. Clyde asks if this means she likes him, and she hedges her answer; she asks him for his phone number, in case plans change. Clyde cannot believe his great luck at having someone of Sondra’s stature caring for him in any capacity.

Notes

Clyde begins to gain entry into the elevated social circles to which he aspires, based on his name and his new associations. In effect, he finds a new group with which he can associate, as he did in Book One with his fellow bell hops and later in Book Three with his fellow Death Row inmates. His introduction to these circles makes him a more complete double of his cousin Gilbert, as the people he meets there are the people Gilbert deals with socially as well. Sondra admonishes Clyde to keep their potential romance a secret, fearing repercussions from her parents. This is similar to the fear of punishment behind Clyde’s secret relationship with Roberta.


CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

Summary

The next day was Saturday, a half-day of work at the collar factory. Clyde had promised Roberta that he would ride with her to Fonda after work, and from there she’ll go on by herself to see her family in Biltz. However, he no longer wished to do this and, overhearing that a meeting of department heads was taking place at three this afternoon, sent a note to Roberta falsely claiming he was required to attend the meeting and could not ride with her to Fonda as a result. The two met briefly after work in Roberta’s room: Roberta asked questions about dinner at his uncle’s, Clyde lied and said his cousins took him to the Steele party. Suspicious, Roberta asked if anybody else from Lycurgus was at the party; Clyde responded noncommittally and made sure not to mention Sondra and Bertine, two girls that Roberta knew Clyde was interested in. They exchanged Christmas gifts, Clyde giving Roberta a toiletry set and Roberta giving Clyde a fountain pen and mechanical pencil for work. When they kissed, Roberta sensed a lack of enthusiasm and grew worried - she told Clyde she would return earlier than planned and had him commit to meeting her at her room on Christmas night. While he felt unsure about agreeing to this, he knew it was easiest to say yes before he had to hurry off to his “meeting”. Once Clyde was gone, she found herself alone and worried about the direction their relationship was taking.

Notes

Roberta’s gift dazzled her enough that she temporarily forgot her misgivings about Clyde. She is by no means a perfect character and is as vulnerable to material luxuries as most everyone else in the novel.

 

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