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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

CHAPTER NINE

Summary

Back at the camp site, Mason speaks with Harley Baggott about Clyde. A casual conversation between Harley and Frank Harriett brings up Sondra's name, which Mason recognizes from the letters found back in Clyde's room in Lycurgus. Getting a glimpse of Sondra, Mason better understands Clyde's motives for murdering Roberta in order to be with her. Ed Swenk emerges from the woods and asks Mason to follow, taking the district attorney to meet Clyde. Clyde point-blank denies having ever been to Big Bittern or Grass Lake. Mason confronts Clyde with letters from Sondra and Roberta, the latter of which Clyde would not comment upon.

Mason then points out how stupid Clyde is to use two aliases that share his real initials, stunning the young man as Clyde realizes his mistake. Mason tries to get Clyde to confess to the crime. Only when threatening to take Clyde back to the camp site does Clyde relent and admit that he knows Roberta but denies murdering her, maintaining that she drowned in an accident and he had taken his bag with him because he was carrying their lunch in it. Clyde claims he left Big Bittern to avoid being associated with Roberta's death but that he was not responsible for that death. With evening approaching, Mason sends Clyde back to the boats while he fetches Clyde's belongings from the camp site.

Notes

Grass Lake rhymes with Pass Lake, where the Boston couple drowned and which inspired Clyde to plan his crime.


CHAPTER TEN

Summary

Mason re-enters the camp with Swenk and tells the people there that he's arrested Clyde, who confessed to being at Big Bittern with the murdered girl, Roberta Alden. Further, Clyde asked not to return to camp but have his belongings collected by Mason. Frank Harriet assists Mason, Sondra expresses disbelief at this turn of events, insisting he must be innocent. Arrangements are made for Sondra to return to Sharon by land with some her friends. Returning to the prisoner, Mason interrogates Clyde about the gray suit he wore upon leaving Big Bittern and his straw hat. Clyde insists that he wore the same suit at Big Bittern that he's wearing now and that he never lost a straw hat. Both assertions leave Mason suspicious as he tries to catch Clyde in further lies.

Clyde is taken to Bridgeburg and the County Jail, where people are already waiting to get a glimpse of him, convinced he is a murderer. Clyde worries about what Sondra and her social circle will think of him. He considers confessing to Mason what happened but realizes the intent of his original plot would only make things worse for him. He remembers mention of the Kansas City car accident in a letter from his mother and worries about that incident being used against him. Clyde is treated as a curiosity by his jailers but he remains civil as his fate is in their hands.


Notes

Clyde's lies work against his intentions: he wishes to distance himself from the murder even as he prepares to admit his intimacy with Roberta. However, this only raises further suspicion in Mason, pointing to a fundamental difference in thinking: Clyde and his eventual defense team wish to parse a distinction between Clyde's sexual indiscretions and the murder, claiming he was fully capable of the former but incapable of the latter. For Mason and the prosecution - and indeed, the general public and media - the two acts are linked almost naturally, one depravity leading to another.


CHAPTER ELEVEN

Summary

The autopsy reveals that, the facial injuries were not the cause of death but that Roberta was alive when drowning, as Clyde claimed. Wishing to prove Clyde's guilt, Mason takes him back to Big Bittern on the third day of his arrest. Clyde remains silent but panics when his tripod is found, denying he owned a camera or a tripod. Burton Burleigh theorizes that it was the camera that was used to hit Roberta Alden in the face, and has the lake dredged again in search of it. The camera is found with a roll of film inside - the roll is developed, revealing shots of Roberta. There was no blood on the camera, however, and Burleigh decides to thread two hairs of Roberta's onto it, thus ensuring its usefulness as evidence against Clyde. Mason discovers these hairs and is further convinced of Clyde's guilt. He requests a special term of the Supreme Court for his district and thus impaneling a local grand jury for Clyde's trial. Further, the timing of these events would help his own nomination for a judgeship.

Notes

Burleigh's decision to rig the evidence is shocking but is yet another example of Dreiser's view that strong desires - to climb up in social status, to see justice carried out - will motivate people to behave corruptly, no matter how well-intentioned they are.


CHAPTER TWELVE

Summary

News of the murder spreads and it becomes a national story. Fearing the wrath of the local upper class, Mason refuses to name Sondra Finchley as the rich young socialite for whom Clyde murders Roberta; that said, Roberta's letters to Clyde become matters of public record. Roberta's mother is quote at length for the newspapers while Lycurgus high society remains quiet. Samuel and Gilbert Griffiths discuss Clyde's possible guilty, Sondra confesses to her father the true nature of her friendship with Clyde. Mr. Finchley calls up his private counsel, Legare Atterbury, a senator and chairman of the Republican State Central Committee, who speaks to District Attorney Mason about keeping Sondra's name - and the letters between her and Clyde - away from the press. The Finchleys and Cranstons leave Twelfth Lake earlier than scheduled, going to seclusion. Meanwhile, Samuel Griffiths sends Smillie to speak to Clyde in Bridgeburg. Asking about the relevant pieces of evidence, Smillie concludes that Clyde is indeed guilty, as Mason told him beforehand.

Notes

Political self-interest masks itself as compassion as Sondra isn't explicitly named as the socialite Clyde woos. However, such discretion applies only for the rich, as Roberta's name is made public and Clyde's immediate family is also dragged into media attention as well. There is a great irony in Clyde's notoriety as a suspected murderer: the fame he earns bestows upon him a kind of recognition and notoriety that is a the dark opposite of the lifestyle to which he aspired. As a nationally famous criminal - a killer - he assumes a twisted but quite elevated stature in the public eye. Roberta was allowed to die on the lake so that Clyde could become greater than his humble origins; in a very real sense, this media attention is the success he earned.

 

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