Free Study Guide for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

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FREE BOOK NOTES AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY

BOOK TWO

CHAPTER FORTY

Summary

Two incidents occur that remind Roberta and Clyde about how different their perspectives are. In the first, Roberta catches a glimpse of Clyde speaking to Arabella Stark on the street: Arabella is in a car outside the Stark building, dressed in the latest fashion. Roberta, who is largely ignored by Clyde at this point, is struck by how unfair her situation is and how she cannot compete with the Arabella Starks and Sondra Finchleys with her background and poverty. The following Sunday, Clyde is on a drive with Sondra and the Trumbulls to the Trumbulls' lodge on Arrow Lake when they stop at a farm in Biltz for directions. Clyde volunteers to ask for directions at the nearby house when he realizes it's the Alden farm and that he is talking to Titus Alden. Clyde is appalled by the poverty and shabbiness of the farm and aghast at the thought of Roberta dragging him down to this level. Sondra, who has taken to speaking to Clyde in baby talk, remains unaware of the conflict he faces, even as she teases him about his odd behavior at the Alden farm. Clyde considers leaving Lycurgus the way he left Kansas City after the hit-andrun with the child. However, he cannot force himself away from Sondra and all that she has to offer, nor could he convince himself to run away yet again from a problem.

Notes

Clyde's unexpected visit to the Alden home foreshadows the visit paid by Orville Mason at the start of Book Three, as both are ultimately harbingers of death to the Alden home.


CHAPTER FORTY-ONE

Summary

On the fifth of June, the Finchleys relocate for the summer to Twelfth Lake. Meanwhile, Roberta clearly begins to show her pregnancy and is experiencing discomfort over her condition. Roberta holds Clyde to his promise that he make arrangements by the fifteenth to get married for the child's birth - and after that, he can go his own way again. Still seeking more time, Clyde persuades Roberta to return to Biltz for several weeks, even using some of the money she saved up to have some new clothes made for their wedding. Five days later, Clyde accompanies Roberta to Fonda, and from there she returns to the family homestead to wait for Clyde in order that they can wed in secret. The extra time gives Clyde still more of a chance to come up with an alternative plan, when all he really seeks is to delay something that seems more and more inevitable in Roberta's eyes. Meanwhile, Sondra writes to Clyde, assuring him that arrangements were made with Bertine so that they can spend time together at Twelfth Lake this summer.

Notes

Clyde's delaying tactics reinforce a sense of immaturity, a refusal to accept the parts of reality that work against his ambitions.


CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

Summary

Clyde receives two letters at once. The first is a frivolous, baby-talking love letter from Sondra advising him on preparations for his visit to Twelfth Lake. The second is a dark, complaining letter from Roberta that tries to be upbeat about her return home but ultimately pleads for Clyde to hurry up and to write back to her. Clyde responds to Sondra but does not respond to Roberta. As he mails off Sondra's letter, he stops to pick up the evening paper and reads of a boating accident in Pass Lake, Massachusetts, where a couple apparently drowned after the rowboat they rented was tipped over. The body of the girl had been found in the water but the man's body had not been found, presumably because of the depths of the lake. Clyde wonders if something similar could be arranged where he and Roberta suffer from a boating accident, Roberta drowns and Clyde is presumed dead but actually escapes. While he is an excellent swimmer and can make his way to shore, Roberta is a poor swimmer and would undoubtedly drown if not assisted. And if he uses an alias, nobody would link the death of Roberta Alden to Clyde Griffiths, even if her body is discovered. He tells himself not to associate murder with Roberta, but the seed is now planted in his head. He holds onto the article, reads it, tells himself he is not the kind of person who would commit such a heinous deed. And yet, the idea continues to haunt him, enough that he must take a late night walk to try to clear his head. He returns home, tries to sleep, but a nightmare wakes him, keeping him from sleeping again that night.

Notes

Dreiser draws a clear line of influence from the media to Clyde's plan to murder Roberta.


CHAPTER FORTY-THREE

Summary

Clyde finds it difficult to not think of the tragic deaths he read about in the paper but nevertheless resists the idea that he could murder Roberta in a similar manner. Since he does not write to Roberta, he stays in touch with her through brief phone calls, telling her he's busy with work and saving up enough to fetch her when the time comes. Meanwhile, he writes to tell Sondra he will see her in the near future. On the eighteenth, as the weekend guest of the Cranstons, Clyde goes to Twelfth Lake where he meets up with Sondra. Clyde is impressed by the sheer range of activities scheduled for the group, including tennis and horseback riding. While Sondra pretends in front of others - especially her parents - that she had not known Clyde would be at the lake this weekend, in private she coos with affectionate baby talk for him. Clyde's emotions sweep in two directions, elated at his current surroundings in Twelfth Lake, then filled with dread at the secret waiting for him in Biltz. On a horseback ride to Inspiration Point, Sondra tells Clyde how her mother suspects that she had a hand in Clyde's presence at the Lake this weekend, but that she's determined to stick with Clyde, even running away with him in the fall if her parents don't relent. Knowing what the summer holds for himself and Roberta, he asks Sondra if they can't run away right now, but Sondra resists. He tries to explain his urgency by saying he feels so strongly for her, which further endears him to Sondra. Nevertheless, Sondra insists they enjoy their summer on the lake and wait for the fall to make the next step towards commitment. Clyde wonders how he can get to that time without Roberta upsetting these plans.

Notes

Ironically, Clyde believes the lack of letter-writing on his part better assures his anonymity, when it provides the opposite: Roberta ends up having witnesses to her phone conversations, since she must use the neighbor's phone to speak with Clyde.

 

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