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Free Study Guide for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

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FREE BOOK SUMMARY AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY

BOOK TWO

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

Summary

Ten days pass and Clyde has yet to locate a doctor. Being relatively new to the area and uninformed about pregnancies in general, he is at a loss for tracking down the right man. Knowing that Orrin Short, the proprietor of the gentlemen's clothing store, was from Gloversville and wished to curry his favor, Clyde decides to ask him. He goes to Short's store, pretending to buy socks and impressing Short with his social life. Then he mentions, casually as possible, that a worker at the collar factory is in trouble because of his wife and needs to know if there are any doctors to consult. After some questions, Short offers the name of a doctor in Gloversville whom he's heard to have performed abortions. Clyde's relief at this information makes Short suspect that it's not another worker at the factory but Clyde himself who's in trouble.

Notes

Orrin Short plays a role quite similar to Walter Dillard earlier in Book Two, of a middling position in the Lycurgus social hierarchy but wishing to climb higher whenever the opportunity offers itself. Typical for his time, Dreiser speaks indirectly about sex and abortions, making vague references which were in themselves quite scandalous for that era. His characters are discrete as well, as seen in the exchange between Short and Clyde.


CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

Summary

Clyde goes from Short to Roberta to give her the news. His sense of triumph is short-lived as Roberta asks him how to get to the doctor, what the doctor is like, how old is he - all things that Clyde did not bother to find out from Short. The next night they depart separately for Fonda, and from there travel together to the outskirts of Gloversville. Clyde coaches Roberta for her solo visit and, instead of being panicked or scared, she is resolved to do what she must. She is also still attracted to Clyde and is dismayed by the thought of losing him, especially under this difficult situation. Roberta goes alone to the door of the doctor, who we soon learn is named Glenn, and he is an older man, conservative in many ways but more progressive than the community he inhabits. While he has performed abortions as a special favor for good families with few options to save their daughters' reputations, he did not do this on a regular basis. Introducing herself as Ruth Howard, Roberta explains that she is newly married and pregnant, that she and her husband cannot have a baby at this time for financial reasons.

Though annoyed by youths who act without fear of moral repercussions and seek an easy solution when a pregnancy occurs, Doctor Glenn initially feels more solicitous for "Ruth" since she is married and nervous of her husband's reaction to the news. When he advises that they keep the baby, Roberta panics and gives up the charade, now mixing the truth with other lies: she says she isn't married and that the man who impregnated her has abandoned him, and that she'd only been sick for two months. Glenn assures her that she may not actually be pregnant and, even if she is, she should try to keep the baby anyway. Despite her hysterics, Doctor Glenn remains adamant about refusing to give Roberta an abortion. Stunned at this refusal, Roberta leaves, unsure of what happens next.

Notes

In Doctor Glenn we have a character who has performed abortions but does not take this action lightly, refusing in all but the most extreme situations. He has a moral code he follows, which is made clear by the way he tries to guide Roberta away from this choice. The false story Roberta gives is based on the truth somewhat, as the father of her baby has abandoned her emotionally, as Clyde prepares to leave Roberta for Sondra.



CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

Summary

Clyde and Roberta are both terrified. Clyde considers that, as everyone he's spoken to suggested, Roberta is mistaken and not pregnant at all. Clyde's inactivity springs from a fear of getting himself further involved and the inability to grasp the full seriousness of the situation as it related to him. As more days pass, Clyde pursues any opportunity to locate another doctor, speaking with a factory foreman and a barber. When the time for Roberta's period arrives a second time, confirming the pregnancy, she and Clyde again visit Doctor Glenn, who again refuses to perform an abortion. Roberta decides that Clyde must marry her if he can't figure a way out of the situation.

The next day she asks to meet Clyde after work and tells him her decision. She knows she is morally correct but is unsure of Clyde's reaction. Clyde wants to scream his refusal but instead tries to reason with Roberta, telling her that if they were to marry in such a way, he'd be placing his career at the factory in jeopardy. Further, he could still seek out a doctor and even had a lead for one in Albany. Roberta knows he's trying to stall her and asks if they can have a secret marriage, at least at first - that way, Clyde will still be in the good graces of his uncle Samuel and Roberta can go home to her parents and tell them in good conscience that she's married as well as with child. She adds that Clyde can leave him after the baby is born, if he so desires, but that he can't leave her now, not when her situation is so desperate, not when he's responsible for this situation with his constant pressure for intimacy when they started to see each other. Clyde says he wants to save money and secure a career before marrying - contradicting his past intent to leave Roberta for good - and asks if Roberta can't just go away and have the baby alone, with money provided by himself. Roberta is appalled at this and tells Clyde how cold he's become and how much he's changed. Clyde knows this but his desire for Sondra overrides all other concerns. After some talk, they agree that Clyde will have another week or two to find a different solution, or else they will get married.

Notes

Roberta's insistence on a secret marriage before the birth of her baby, even if it doesn't guarantee Clyde staying with her afterwards, emphasizes the innate importance she places on a moral code. She could lie to her parents and others around her by falsely claiming she is married, but such a notion is not even considered by her. Rather, she takes it for granted that she must tell the truth whenever possible, including her marital status when it is revealed she is pregnant.


CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

Summary

Seeking two very different solutions to the same pregnant problem, Roberta continue to work under Clyde at the collar factory, a constant reminder of the perils Clyde faces. Meanwhile, Clyde continues to flourish among the youths of Lycurgus high society, enough to catch Mrs. Finchley's attention and raise concerns about her children becoming too involved with the impoverished cousin of Samuel Griffiths. For her part, Sondra was falling in love with Clyde and dreaming of a summer spent together at Twelfth Lake and of a future well beyond that. Two more months pass for Roberta as she and Clyde remain inactive in the face of panic. Clyde continues to maintain that getting married will jeopardize the job he needs in order to lead a prosperous married life, but becomes friendlier and more solicitous to Roberta to keep her from acting rashly. Roberta is now willing to believe Clyde is saving money for their eventual wedding, and she is letting Clyde believe that once his duty is completed with the baby's birth, he may leave her if he so wishes. Clyde knows he will not leave Lycurgus at this point, not with Sondra so close. In early May, Roberta warns Clyde that she cannot continue to work by the beginning of June or else her pregnancy will be noticed by others.

Meanwhile, Sondra explains to Clyde that her family will begin their summer on Twelfth Lake in June; however, her continued attention to Clyde has made her parents consider a two-year tour through Europe to separate the secret lovers. Sondra assures Clyde that she wishes to be with him and will act on this when she comes of age in October, a promise that leaves him intoxicated and enthralled. In the meanwhile, there's Roberta to consider, whose presence and problem threatens to hold Clyde back. However, Clyde reasons that if his sister Esta can have a child on her own and survive, why not Roberta? Why let Roberta destroy a better life for himself?

Notes

Sondra's promise to be with Clyde on her birthday in October provides a new timetable for Clyde, a goal to work towards even as the deadline of Roberta's pregnancy looms nearer and nearer. In this way, Dreiser heightens the story's tension, providing Clyde with fresh motivation as his ultimate goal of winning Sondra and moving up the social ladder comes even closer within his grasp.

 

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