Free Study Guide for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser|
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AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY GUIDE / PLOT 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.
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.
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.
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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Mescallado, Ray. "TheBestNotes on An American Tragedy".
. 09 May 2017