Free Study Guide for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser|
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FREE STUDY GUIDE FOR AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY BY THEODORE DREISER
Clyde's two worlds clash in a painful way for him, as his mother speaks to
the press and reveals how poor and disadvantaged he was - a fact he never
wanted Sondra or others in Lycurgus high society to know.
October 15, the trial begins as scheduled. Jephson speaks to Clyde, convincing
him to believe he is innocent and act as an innocent person would. He
also adds that the story they will tell the jury may not be true, but
it serves the higher truth of Clyde’s innocent better than the actual
events can. Thus, Clyde and his defense head across the street from the
jail to the county court. Jury selection begins with Simeon Dinsmore and
Dudley Sheerline, making plain to the defense the difficulty of finding
impartial jury members for their case. Clyde maintains his positive demeanor,
as instructed by his lawyers, but is curious about the people in the courtroom:
he wonders if his former friends from Lycurgus high society is present,
then is alarmed upon seeing Roberta’s sister Emily and her mother. He
sees Tracy Trumbull; the Gilpins, who housed Roberta in their home; Mr.
and Mrs. Newton, who had done the same before the Gilpins; and Coroner
Heit. The court session ends and Clyde returns to his cell. Sondra is
nowhere to be seen and, as agreed by both the defense and prosecution
(and expressly wished by the Finchleys and Samuel Griffiths), will not
even be named during the trial.
The defense agrees to keep Sondra's name out of the case - and thus, outside
of the media's attention. It's interesting that Jephson, at least, didn't
suggest using her name as leverage in the trial: this indicates perhaps
a belief in certain rules he observes in strategizing (if this is a game,
Sondra is off-limits) or perhaps an understanding of the long-term consequences
if the upper class of the area are discomfited.
Jury selection takes five days, then opening statements are made by both sides.
Mason paints a vivid, detailed portrait of Clyde Griffiths as a dissolute
wanderer who takes advantage of innocent Roberta Alden, then falls for
another unnamed woman of greater wealth. Mason then goes into the plan
Clyde assembled to murder Roberta, then surprises the defense lawyers
and Clyde by mentioning the letter Roberta had written and which was found
in the coat she left at Gun Lodge in Big Bittern. Mason then mentions
an eye witness who saw the murder take place - while there was no such
witness, he offered this to see the defense’s alarmed reaction. Clyde
is seized by hopelessness, Belknap wonders if he was wrong to believe
the boy innocent. Jephson questions the veracity of Mason’s claim and
expresses his doubts to the other two... even as he ponders the possibility
of getting Clyde twenty years of prison instead of the death penalty.
Jephson is driven less by what he believes than what he can get away with. As a result, he also seems strikingly pragmatic, as extended jail time is something he considers worth shooting for, and not just full acquittal.
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Mescallado, Ray. "TheBestNotes on An American Tragedy".
. 09 May 2017