Free Study Guide for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser|
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The first several paragraphs of this chapter deals with the state of mind
Clyde is in, setting up the debate between Clyde and the "dark genie"
that is convincing him to commit murder.
Noontime on Tuesday, July 6, Roberta and Clyde board separate cars on a train
heading to Utica. Clyde mentally compares Roberta to Sondra and found
the factory girl inferior to the society heiress. That said, he resolves
to follow through on his plan. For her part, Roberta is relieved to see
Clyde and knows the months they will spend together before the baby's
born will give her a chance to win him over again. Waiting for the train,
Clyde reminds himself to buy a second straw hat while in Utica and that
he has to be as pleasant as possible with Roberta. He remembers earlier,
happier times with Roberta but is now unmoved by them. He read brochures
procured from Lycurgus House about Big Bittern and the surrounding areas,
and considered ways to convince Roberta to go somewhere as remote as that
lake. Roberta believes marrying her - even if only until the baby's birth
- is the only right thing that Clyde can do. She wonders what will happen
when they get married, where they will stay; she also wonders if Clyde
noticed her new outfit. The two spend the night in Utica, giving Clyde
a chance to buy his hat.
Clyde is wary of Big Bittern because of the bird he heard on his first visit.
Clyde and Roberta head to Grass Lake in separate cars but, upon meeting there, discover that it's far from secluded - a religious organization is meeting there, much to Clyde's confusion and disappointment. Roberta suggested being married by a minister at this place, but Clyde demurs. The next day they again travel separately to Gun Lodge, where they take a bus together to Big Bittern. Roberta leaves her bag behind at the Lodge, but Clyde takes his because he's packed their lunch and his camera in it. He's dismayed when he finds out the driver of the bus is the same guide he talked to on his first visit, but the driver does not seem to recognize him. Throughout, Clyde worries that there will be crowds, as there were at Grass Lake. The host of the inn at Big Bittern, Boniface, greets Clyde and Roberta, finds out they're staying for the afternoon, asks if they'll have dinner at the inn, then asks them to register. Clyde does register, but under the name Clifford Golden and wife. Because of the heat, Roberta leaves her hat and coat at the inn, much to Clyde's dismay.
He rents a boat at the lake and rows off with Roberta, asking her if she saw
many people at the inn. She saw several, but not many. Roberta is having
a pleasant time but Clyde is wracked with anxiety and fear. They have
a picnic lunch at the shore, Clyde takes some pictures of Roberta to justify
taking his bag with him, but he grows increasingly distressed. He hears
the strange bird's cries again, unsure of what it means. They go back
on the boat, now thoroughly alone and far from the inn. Sensing the time
is right to act, he nevertheless finds himself unable to do so... Until
Roberta asks what's wrong and reaches out to him. Surprised, he lashes
out at her in a sudden fit of anger, hitting her in the face with the
camera. As she reels back and rocks the boat, Clyde instinctively stands
up - either to grab her to apologize - and capsizes the boat completely.
Roberta panics, asks Clyde for help, but he offers none. She drowns. Clyde
is assured by his genie that he's at last rid of her and will escape scot-free,
but the call of the strange bird continues to haunt him. Swimming to shore,
Clyde dries himself, hides his tripod, wonders if anyone witnessed what
happened, and fled into the night.
Grass Lake should not be mistaken with Pass Lake; Grass Lake is the stop Clyde takes with Roberta on the way to Big Bittern, Pass Lake is the place in Massachusetts where the couple drowned. The bird is one of the few overt symbols Dreiser uses in the novel. Moon Cove is the area of the lake where the murder occurs, though it isn't named until Chapter Two of Book Three.
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Mescallado, Ray. "TheBestNotes on An American Tragedy".
. 09 May 2017