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Free Study Guide for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

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FREE BOOK NOTES AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY

BOOK TWO

CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR

Summary

Roberta writes to Clyde, detailing her miserable time at home in Biltz - especially with her family unaware of her pregnancy --and pleads that he fetches her before July 3rd, as her parents have decided to go on a trip for the Fourth of July weekend and will ask Roberta to accompany them. As he is not at home to read that letter and respond immediately to it, she writes another letter to him: she is returning to Lycurgus despite earlier promises to wait for him, but his lack of contact and apparent unwillingness to fetch her has left her upset and panicked. He calls Roberta, who inundates him with questions; he assures her he is busy with work and reminds her that he said he'd be coming in two weeks, around the 28th of June. In order to save more money, Clyde continues, could she not go with her parents on the Fourth of July trip so that he can fetch her around the 8th of July? Roberta panics at this and says if that's the case, she'll return to Lycurgus - he has to come for her by the third or earlier. Clyde soothes her and assures her this will be the case, if only to calm her down for the moment. However, Clyde has other plans in mind: the day before, while still at Twelfth Lake with Sondra, he went on a motoring trip with several others to Big Bittern; Harley Baggott was checking out lakes for his father to go fishing. The remoteness of the area made an impression on Clyde, reminding him of the drowned couple of Pass Lake. Now back in Lycurgus, Clyde can't help but consider the murder of Roberta - denying himself one moment, planning out the details the next, taking a long walk to sort through his conflicting impulses.

Notes

Clyde hears a bird during the road trip to Lake Bittern, a psychological sign of guilt on his part.


CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE

Summary

Clyde battles with a part of himself, the "dark genie", about planning to take Roberta to the lake at Big Bittern and arranging an "accidental death" for her. As the genie reasons, Clyde has always made sure that the two of them were never seen traveling together, Roberta thinks they will have a secret marriage, so going to a place as secluded as Big Bittern would make sense. From there, he knows the route to go to Twelfth Lake and be with Sondra. As long as he makes sure he and Roberta do not reveal their real names while traveling together, Clyde's anonymity is assured. Further, the genie argues that Roberta had a chance to go her own way but instead forced Clyde into this choice - the accident that follows is her responsibility, not his, because he has no choice but to free himself from her. Clyde continues to agonize over this course of action, though his dark side insists that a plan must be decided upon and carried out as soon as possible. Several more days pass and on Thursday a new letter from Roberta arrives for Clyde: unless she hears from Clyde by Friday noon, she will return to Lycurgus to confront him.

Again in a panic, he calls Roberta and convinces her to wait until the sixth, and at that point they can go on a small trip. They agree to meet at Fonda on noon of July sixth, from which they'll head to Utica in separate cars. Now, the planning begins to quicken in Clyde's minds: many details are contemplated, including getting travel brochures from the Lycurgus House hotel (where he originally stayed upon arriving in town), telling Roberta they will marry only after this outing, buying a second straw hat to fake his drowning, making sure to rent a boat that easily tips over, packing lightly for the outing so that it appears as if he's only gone to Twelfth Lake for a visit and not elsewhere, packing a trunk at home in case things go wrong and he must flee Lycurgus immediately. And most of all, keep Roberta happy and unsuspecting by maintaining a light, loving tone with her.


Notes

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.


CHAPTER FORTY-SIX

Summary

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.

Notes

Clyde is wary of Big Bittern because of the bird he heard on his first visit.


CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN

Summary

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.

Notes

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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