Free Study Guide for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser|
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FREE BOOK SUMMARY AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY
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.
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.
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?
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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Mescallado, Ray. "TheBestNotes on An American Tragedy".
. 09 May 2017