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Free Study Guide for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

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ONLINE STUDY GUIDE FOR AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY BY THEODORE DREISER

BOOK THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

Summary

Mason cross-examines Clyde, questioning the salient points of his narrative, bringing up how Clyde had originally lied about owning a camera, questioning his lack of sympathy for Roberta in never writing to her while she was home in Biltz. As for the accident on the lake, Mason has the actual boat brought into court and Zillah Saunders taking the place of Roberta as Clyde demonstrates what happened on that fateful day. The day's trial session ends on this note, and the next morning Mason questions Clyde's change of heart towards Roberta and whether or not he could have saved her from drowning if he truly wanted. Mason confronts Clyde with the camera and the two strands of hair threaded on it. Mason next attacks Clyde based on his having close relationships with two women at once, pursuing Miss X while still remaining involved and leading along Roberta Alden. He turns after that to Clyde's finances, exposing that Clyde was not aware of the cost of renting a boat at Big Bittern because he had no intention of returning it and thus making a payment. Finally, Mason attacks Clyde's claim that the visit to Big Bittern was not planned, using evidence that makes clear Clyde had looked up the information from Lycurgus House well in advance of the trip.

Notes

Mason methodically takes apart Clyde's story: re-enacting the actual accident in the trial only serves to emphasize the unlikeliness of his claims, as well as showing that Clyde had not been as thorough in covering his tracks as he could have been. This points to a practical problem of Clyde's lack of resolve, both in his actions and his defense: the portions he tries to obscure prove he was trying to hide something, while the parts he doesn't try to hard only reinforce negative aspects of his behavior. If he tried to obscure nothing - in his actions or his explanation after Roberta's death - he would at least appear less guilty. That said, the very nature of his twin love affairs demanded some level of deception, which Mason also pounces upon.


CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

Summary

More witnesses follow Clyde, going over details of evidence and its interpretation. Belknap and Mason each give their summations, spinning their own versions of the events and poking holes into the other side's statements. Justice Oberwaltzer gives specific instructions on determining guilt and innocence, then the jury deliberates. One person, Samuel Upham, holds out for Clyde's innocence but is convinced by the others to vote guilty or risk being exposed. The jury returns, finds Clyde guilty of murder. Clyde worries for his mother and how she'll react when hearing this news. Mason is praised by most everyone for seeing justice done.

Notes

Again, the community works against the individual: in this case, Samuel Upham is unable to stand by his beliefs because the rest of the jury decided Griffiths was guilty. While it is possible for a single juror to come to his own conclusions and agree with the other eleven, here Dreiser clearly portrays Upham's decision as done under coercion and threats. The jury, then, is as tainted as other parts of the trial, with the Justice Oberwaltzer as the sole example of uncompromised moral values brought to bear on the court.


CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

Summary

News of the verdict spreads across the country and finally reaches Elvira Griffiths. Elvira deliberates with herself and God on her son's innocence, admitting that he led Roberta astray but that Roberta had done the same to him. Elvira writes an encouraging telegram to Clyde, which a reporter volunteers to pay for so that he could have the scoop. Samuel Griffiths family decides against funding an appeal for Clyde, not wanting to deal with any more shame. As it stands, the Griffiths have decided to move themselves and their business to Boston to try to escape the notoriety Clyde imparted them. Without further financial support, Belknap and Jephson decide to call in Elvira Griffiths to speak on her son's behalf regarding his sentence. Elvira is inspired to speak to an editor and have a paper pay for her trip to Lycurgus; in return, she will write of her experiences for that paper.


Notes

While it's brought up before this chapter, Elvira's belief that Roberta was as guilty Clyde about their mutual moral downfall takes on a more compelling aspect given Elvira's moral stature. Her decision to come to New York to support Clyde is complicated by becoming an employee of a local paper to do so.


CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT


Summary

Elvira comes to visit Clyde at the county jail in Bridgeburg. She is unsure of his innocence because she senses the same confusion in him. She then spoke with Belknap and Jephson, who are now cut off financially as the Samuel Griffiths family is displeased with Clyde's mother becoming highly visible in the papers. Considering ways to raise funds for Clyde's appeal, Elvira decides to do lectures. In the meanwhile, she attends Clyde's sentencing, where Justice Oberwaltzer decides Clyde will be executed on January 28. Deciding her son is not guilty, Elvira speaks to the media about the planned appeal. Clyde is soon moved to Auburn Penitentiary's Murder Row. There, he is surprised to be recognized by some of the other inmates, as well as by the presence of a Chinese murderer. An unnamed inmate, apparently a farmer, annoys and scares the other with his cries of agony. Above all, however, is the looming threat of the actual electrocution chair.

Notes

In the background throughout most of Book Three, the electrocution chair becomes the central symbol in the scenes set at the penitentiary. All the inmates in Clyde's ward are sentenced to die on that chair, and so all are obsessed with it and the death it brings.


CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

Summary

At Auburn, the new Death House - where prisoners awaiting execution serve their time - is connected to the old Death House, now a reception area, and the execution room. Before a man dies, he stays in a cell in the old Death House in order to have some solitude. Arriving in Auburn. Elvira goes to the penitentiary to speak to Clyde in private and is upset when she sees her son in his new situation. She implores Clyde to seek solace in the Lord, prepares to give lectures to raise funds for his appeal, and seeks help at the local churches.

Notes

The description of the two Death Houses are mildly complicated and shows how dealing with death in an official capacity presents problems and issues people normally don't consider.

 

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