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Free Study Guide for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

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FREE BOOK SUMMARY FOR AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY BY THEODORE DREISER

BOOK THREE

As with the other two books, Book Three begins with a new setting and new characters, marking a different phase in Clyde's life.

CHAPTER ONE

Summary

In the county seat of Bridgeburg, Fred Heit, the coroner for Cataraqui County, receives a phone call about a drowned couple at Big Bittern. As he listens to the details, he dictates them to his assistant, Earl Newcomb: the wife's body was found, she left her coat and hat at the inn, her coat pocket had a letter addressed to Mrs. Titus Alden of Biltz in Mimico County. Heit and Newcomb head off to Big Bittern, but Newcomb first stops at Zillah Saunders to tell her what happened and to tell his mother that he'll be out of town and home late.

Notes

Readers immediately get a sense of political stakes: Newcomb is described as a "politically active youth"; Heit tells Newcomb to inform the two local newspapers, the Democrat and the Republican; and Zaunders' boss, District Attorney Orville Mason, is doing work for the County Republican Convention. Dreiser is clearly foreshadowing the politicized nature of Clyde's trial.


CHAPTER TWO

Summary

The disappearance of a rental boat and the happy couple using it resulted in a search party at Big Bittern the morning after. When a veil and hat was found at Moon Cove, more of the local populace became involved in dredging the water. Everyone agreed that it was odd for such an accident to happen on a day as calm as yesterday. Finally, John Pole and Joe Rainer discover Roberta's body. Immediately, the marks on Roberta's faces are noticed, as is the absence of a second body. When Heit arrives, suspicions are expressed to him about the following: the drowned girl left her bag at the inn while her companion, Clifford Golden, took his on the boat; comparing notes with the innkeeper at Grass Lake, the same Clifford Golden had apparently signed in as Carl Graham the night before; this person asked the guide if the lake would be crowded. Heit is given a letter found in the girl's coat, addressed to "Mama" and signed Bert. Heit could tell this was a situation involving a wayward girl in trouble --and also sensed that the situation can be used to the favor of the Republicans in the county, if a trial was to take place. The district attorney, a Republican, had served the two-term limit and a high-profile case can get him elected to a judgeship. Heit decides to hold back the letter, as it would solve the case too quickly if publicly revealed.

As he prepares to investigate the letter to Biltz, two men and a boy speak to Heit about a mysterious man they encountered last night, dressed well and heading to Three Mile Bay. Following up this lead, Heit calls Three Mile Bay and later finds out a well-dressed man had taken the steamer ferry Cygnus to Sharon this very morning. All are convinced that something rotten has occurred, as news spreads through the various papers in the area.


Notes

Heit is less interested in solving the case quickly than in having the case benefit the local Republican party.


CHAPTER THREE

Summary

Coroner Heit has to decide what to do next, including how to approach contacting Mrs. Alden in Biltz. Returning to Bridgeburg, he speaks with the district attorney, Orville Mason. Mason already heard early details from Zillah Saunders, but Heit confirmed to him that the case is definitely murder. Heit offers to go to Mrs. Alden to inform her of Roberta's death but points out that it would be politically advantageous for Mason if he takes the initiative. Mason expresses his gratitude and asks if anybody besides Heit knows of the letter; Heit says only Hubbard, the innkeeper, is aware of it. Heit mentions that Hubbard was afraid something was wrong based on the missing young man's nervous behavior; further, there were the marks on the drowned girl's face, as well as the group near Three Mile Bay who ran into a mysterious young man. Earl Newcomb is following up leads both there and at Sharon, but there is little doubt that this is a case of murder. Mason tells his secretary Zillah Saunders to look up a Titus Alden in Biltz and to have his legal assistant, Burton Burleigh, come back early from his weekend vacation. Mason thanks Heit for this much-needed boost to his political career.

Notes

We are given a brief biographical sketch of Mason, who grew up under poverty-stricken neglect and suffered permanent facial injury in his teens. Despite such a background and disfigurement, he climbed up the local political ladder and began a family.


CHAPTER FOUR

Summary

Orville Mason drives from Bridgeburg to Biltz, where he first meets Titus at the Alden farm. He confirms that Titus has a daughter whose nickname is Bert, Roberta, and that Titus has never heard of a Clifford Golden or Carl Graham. Mason asks more questions about Roberta and her recent activities before showing the envelope with her handwriting. Titus suspects that she's been harmed or is dead, which Mason confirms. Titus becomes hysterical but Mason calms him down for the sake of Roberta's mother, who must also hear this news. Titus vows righteous vengeance on the person who violated and murdered his daughter, then breaks the news to his wife. Mrs. Alden faints when told and Mason thinks quickly, asking Titus where he can phone a doctor; Titus directs him to the Wilcoxes next door, the same phone that Roberta used to speak with Clyde, and there Mason dials up Dr. Crane in Biltz.

Upon recovering, Mrs. Alden tells Mason that the only person Roberta had mentioned to her was her employer, Clyde Griffiths. This third example of the initials C.G. is too much to be coincidence, Mason decides. Mason and Titus speak to the Aldens' mailman, who confirms numerous letters sent out to a Clyde Griffiths. Orville Mason and Titus Alden then go to Bridgeburg: at the Lutz Brothers funeral parlor, Titus confirms that the drowned girl is his daughter. Dramatically, he asks for Mason's help in prosecuting the person responsible. Mason is emotionally moved and promises to do exactly that, impressing those who hear him. Newcomb then reminds Mason of the bag Roberta left at Gun Lodge, evidence that must be investigated.

Notes

Dreiser's stylistic emphasis on details pays off in an unexpected fashion in this Book, as it is reinforced by the importance of evidence in finding and prosecuting Clyde.

 

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