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Free Study Guide for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

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AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY FREE NOTES

BOOK TWO

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

Summary

While Clyde is welcomed to Lycurgus' upper class social events that winter, his lack of wealth made him unfit marriage material into those circles. This did not deter Sondra, however: she not only enjoys the attention he gives her, but also has an innate generosity that encourages her to provide for someone she likes. With the help of her friends, she made sure to carry Clyde through whatever financial difficulties he would face in attending various social functions. Aware that her parents resisted her choice of Clyde, Sondra nevertheless picks Clyde up for the car ride to the Schenectady New Year's Eve party. The young would-be lovers are not alone again until two weeks later, when they return with Sondra's brother Stuart from a party in Amsterdam. Instead of dropping Clyde off, she invites him to the Finchley home for hot chocolate. Start excuses himself to go to sleep, while Clyde marvels at the size of the kitchen and the wide range of accoutrements it holds. Sondra flirts with Clyde, who takes the opportunity to vehemently express his love for her. She fends him off but he kisses her, which she allows. Sondra tells him that he should go; Clyde is afraid she is angry, but she isn't. Nevertheless, he leaves saddened, aware that he could go no further at the moment.

Notes

Sondra is not a one-dimensional character, a "spoiled rich girl" type that can be easily dismissed. Her generosity, the fact that she does not care if Clyde is poor and actually welcomes being able to help him financially, gives her added dimension and makes her a more sympathetic character. She is a child of her social class, however, which Dreiser does stress. When she sees Clyde impressed by the wealth apparent in her kitchen, she tries to further this by placing the hot chocolate from a plain aluminum pan to an ornamented urn. That said, she is compared to Roberta and Hortense as she dislikes weakness in the men who romance her, "she preferred to be mastered rather than to master".


CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

Summary

Roberta's suspicions about Clyde and Sondra are quickly confirmed, yet she can do nothing about it - she believes herself below Sondra and unable to sway Clyde completely to her side. Working with Roberta daily, Clyde knew of her dark moods but did not want to jeopardize his chances with Sondra. He never promised to marry her, at least not explicitly, and believed he was free to choose the best woman possible for himself - and that was Sondra. Unfortunately, Clyde and Sondra continue to have intimate relations during this time and remain ignorant about the use of contraception. As a result, when Sondra discovers that her menstrual cycle is off by two days, she panics at the scandal this would cause and seeks Clyde's help. While she knows Clyde is growing increasingly indifferent to her, she also believes he is kind-hearted and loving enough to help her through their shared problem. She slips Clyde a note asking to see him after work that afternoon and, when they meet, she breaks the news. He is disbelieving, thinking she may only be late in her menstruation and not pregnant. However, he suspects this isn't the case. He considers what his options are: denying any affair with Roberta, seeing a druggist, or seeing a doctor who can perform an abortion. Like Roberta, he worries about the scandal and the effect a pregnancy will have on his future. Clyde leaves Roberta alone to return to her room, panicked and lonely.


Notes

Roberta's sense of helplessness is based on class differences: she is involved with somebody above her own class status, and sees virtues in Clyde that wouldn't exist if they were on the same level. Similarly, her rivalry with Sondra seems hopeless for the same reasons: she sees virtues in Sondra that she knows Clyde detects as well, again based on her higher standing in Lycurgus society. Part of the tragedy is, of course, that Clyde agrees with her in this matter. Immediately after being informed of Roberta's pregnancy, Clyde shows more concern for his own well-being than for Roberta's; this only worsens as the situation becomes increasingly bleak for the couple.


CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

Summary

Clyde has dinner with the Starks that evening. Knowing any pregnancy queries he makes in Lycurgus would immediately hit the grapevine, he decides to go to another, larger city to visit a druggist and find a solution. He decides on going to Schenectady the next evening but, facing Roberta tomorrow, decides to excuse himself early from the dinner - claiming to take care of some work-related matter - and head to Schenectady that very evening. He looks at several different shops before choosing one, pretending to be a married man who can't afford to have children but whose wife became pregnant. The druggist is a strongly religious man and states plainly that he carries nothing that can help Clyde. Feeling more desperate and emboldened, he goes to another drugstore and using the same story speaks to the employee working the counter. The employee sells Clyde a remedy for six dollars, but Clyde forgets to ask for any special instructions. He immediately takes the remedy to Roberta, who is pleased at such a rapid solution but also wary of its effectiveness. Not wanting to make another mistake, Clyde acts in a friendly but remote manner to Roberta, which only troubles her further.

Notes

That Clyde decides to go outside of Lycurgus to find a solution to Robertaís pregnancy shows how much he values keeping the secret which would ruin his chances with Sondra; that he forgets to get instructions for the medicine shows how little he cares about Roberta and her situation. He wants a quick solution and doesnít care how it works, just that it happens and sets him free from Roberta.


CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

Summary

The remedy does not work. Roberta takes off from work while she tries the remedy and, when it has no effect, she doubles the hourly dose she gives herself. Clyde decides to visit the drugstore employee in Schenectady a second time. In the meanwhile, he attends a party at the Cranstons, where he meets Sondra and others of that elevated social circle. While he wows the group with a parlor trick, escorts Sondra home, and is even allowed to kiss her, he can't stop thinking of Roberta. He decides to write to Ratterer that night for advice, but first stops at Roberta's room to check up on her. She is not doing well but still pregnant; they agree that in the morning she'll leave a signal, curtains drawn or open, to let Clyde know if he'll need to visit the druggist. The curtains are closed, so Clyde goes to Schenectady; the employee he spoke with before now advises Clyde to have his "wife" take a hot bath or engage in strenuous exercise, then assures Clyde that nothing may be wrong and that the menstrual cycle may simply not be on time. Desperate, Clyde asks if there are any doctors he can approach; the way he asks the question makes the drugstore employee suspect that Clyde isn't really married, and as a result the man refuses to give any names and stressing that what Clyde seeks is illegal.

Clyde returns to Roberta with a renewal of the first prescription, which Roberta initially resists as being ineffective. She's correct and Clyde decides on approaching a doctor - however, he knows being who he is and especially looking so alike to cousin Gilbert, will make it difficult. Further, his affluent appearance may mean that the doctor may charge him more. Thus, he decides that Roberta should approach this hypothetical doctor by herself - to not only keep Clyde's reputation clear but also to keep the price lower. Realizing how shabby his plan is and how shamed he should feel, he nevertheless asks Roberta to take this approach. She resists again, and again she agrees with Clyde. Satisfied with this agreement, Clyde is happy that he's extricated himself from a socially harmful meeting - and that afterwards, he and Roberta will go their separate ways.

Notes

The secrecy of the relationship is reinforced by the window signals by which Roberta informs Clyde of her condition. The druggist in Schenectady is shown to have a moral code of his own when he refuses to give Clyde further help. This gives some complexity to his character and to the issue of abortion: the ending of a pregnancy is a serious matters and Dreiser emphases that those who assist in such matters have moral boundaries they observe and arenít advocates of its wholesale use by anyone.

 

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