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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 THIRTY

Summary

As Clyde waits in prison, consoled only by his mother's visits, Elvira sets out to lecture and raise funds wherever she is allowed. She's hopeful about the initial results, but her son's sensational case and her own background as a street preacher did not help win sympathy. She collects eleven hundred dollars when she hears from her children in Denver, telling her that Asa is ill and may die soon. She returns to Denver as Belknap and Jephson take pity and file their appeal. Clyde becomes used to life in Murderer's Row - the inmates, the routines, the unusual way they have to play checkers and cards - but is unnerved again by the execution of Pasquale Cutrone. In this way, Clyde sees his first man die.

Notes

It's worth noting that Belknap and Johnson have no firm promise of monetary recuperation but file an appeal regardless. Whether they are moved by Clyde's situation or specifically by Elvira's demeanor and actions is not stated explicitly, but one may conjecture a combination of both.


CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

Summary

Asa takes four months to recover; by that point, Elvira is unable to gain interest from the newspapers to finance a trip back to New York, nor is there interest in her lectures. Clyde watches as more prisoners are executed, even as he befriends another inmate, Miller Nicholson. Nicholson suggests that an appeal can be based on the use of Roberta’s letters - they were inflammatory, prejudicial, and should never have been allowed into evidence. When it's Nicholson's turn to be executed, he leaves a gift for Clyde: two books, Robinson Crusoe and Arabian Nights. Clyde is approached by Reverend Duncan McMillan of Syracuse, who Elvira had spoken to while she was originally in New York. McMillan was impressed by her, especially by her contention that the death of a pretty girl invoked romantic reactions that led to a biased trial. Now, Elvira writes letters to McMillan pleading for him to visit Clyde. He finally agrees, meets with Clyde, and prays for him. Moved by Reverend McMillan's spiritual strength, Clyde finds a renewed faith in God.

Notes

McMillan is described as being a good son to his mother, which is in contrast to Clyde.


CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

Summary

Reverend McMillan continues to visit Clyde on a regular basis, pleading for him to accept God and open his heart. Clyde considers his parents' hardships and saw no benefit in their spiritual devotion; however, his incarceration made him more open to the idea. Awaiting his appeal, Clyde initially wishes to hold off confessing to McMillan about the false testimony he gave at the trial, even as he saw such actions as being impious and not at all respectful to God's will. Clyde also receives a note from Sondra, unsigned, letting him know she hasn't forgotten him. As he watches his fellow inmates deal with their suffering, Clyde is unable to eat his meal.


Notes

Clyde's decision to not confess to Reverend McMillan indicates a couple of things: a refusal to give up his fight, but also a refusal to embrace the spiritual redemption both the Reverend and Elvira seek for him.


CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

Summary

When Revered McMillan visits two days later, Clyde is still depressed. He counsels Clyde and finally, two weeks after Sondra's note arrived, Clyde confesses everything to McMillan: about his relationships with Roberta and Sondra, that he had planned to kill Roberta but could not do so, that the blow dealt to her was accidental. McMillan does not believe in the death penalty but is also troubled by Clyde's situation - planning to murder, even if he did not do so technically. Meanwhile, Clyde’s is denied a retrial by the Court of Appeals, who find the evidence circumstantial but more than sufficient. Reverend McMillan rushes to Clyde to give him the news and provide consolation, as well as offer a new ray of hope: a new governor is coming into office in January. McMillan will speak to him personally about having Clyde’s sentence commuted. Clyde wishes to tell his mother all this, but McMillan has already done so.

Notes

McMillan's dilemma springs from two different concerns: whether anybody should be put to death for his actions and whether Clyde is truly repentant and willing to accept his fate.


CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

Summary

Elvira Griffiths and Reverend McMillan speak with Governor Waltham after he takes office in January. The governor asks McMillan if he knows of any legal basis by which Clyde could have his sentence lessened. McMillan is torn by this question and replies evasively that his role is as a spiritual advisor to Clyde. Waltham senses that McMillan, too, believes Clyde is guilty and lets the death sentence stand. Upon hearing the news, Clyde is again beset by spiritual doubts, as all talk of Eternal Life is contrasted to the short amount of time left on this earth. Based on McMillan’s evasions in front of the governor, Elvira is again unsure of her son’s innocence and asks him if he wishes to confess his guilt. Clyde sees that his mother could never understand him, especially his desire for material wealth and comfort. As his execution date nears, Clyde writes a letter expressing his contrition and newly found faith in the Lord. McMillan is proud of Clyde, who requests that it be held back until after his death. Elvira writes one last letter to the governor, but receives a cold reply from his secretary, Robert Fessler. In the final hour before his execution, Clyde assures his mother that he has found peace, giving Elvira happiness for his son’s redemption. Reverends McMillan and Gibson accompany Clyde to the electric chair. Afterwards, McMillan walks for hours, wondering if he did the right thing in letting Clyde die. Finally, he goes to meet Mrs. Griffiths at the home of the Gaults.

Notes

McMillan is wracked with doubt over the results of his actions. He feels personally responsible for Clyde's death and has decided to follow a higher moral code rather than


SOUVENIR

Summary

In San Francisco on Market Street, five street missionaries start to preach at a street corner: Asa and Elvira Griffiths with their grandson Russell, now seven or eight, along with a Miss Schoof and her mother. After their songs and sermon, they return to their mission. Russell asks if he can have an ice cream and Elvira allows it, believing this indulgence may make the difference between him and Clyde.

Notes

Esta is nowhere to be found, and there is no explanation for her absence.

 

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