Free Study Guide for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser|
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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
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.
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.
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.
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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Mescallado, Ray. "TheBestNotes on An American Tragedy".
. 09 May 2017