Accompanied by Alden and officials working on the case, Mason thought about Clyde Griffith's motive for Roberta's murder and immediately focused on the possibility of sexual indiscretions. Examining the bag Roberta had left at the inn, he finds the toilet set Clyde had given her as a Christmas present, along with the card with Clyde's first name. Mason reveals the identity of the killer to Heit, pointing out Clyde is the nephew of Samuel Griffiths and a manager at the Griffiths collar factory in Lycurgus; further, Roberta worked under Clyde. Regarding the autopsy of Roberta's body, Mason asks for four or five doctors to take part in the process, for the sake of the trial and to keep the peace among the doctors in the community. With Titus Alden, Mason drives down to Lycurgus, where he gets a warrant to search Clyde's room in Mrs. Peyton's house. They break open Clyde's trunk, finding Roberta's letters as well as Sondra's.
Further, contrary to what Mason initially believed, he discovers that Clyde
is from a poor, religious background and not a child of inherited wealth.
Now Mason saw the choice Clyde was making between Roberta and Sondra,
not just the women but the lifestyles they offered. Tracking down Clyde,
Mason calls the Cranston summer lodge and finds out from the butler that
Clyde is indeed staying there for the weekend, though a party that included
him had gone on a camping trip to Bear Lake. Mason immediately calls together
his own party - this of the Bridgeburg sheriff and his deputies - to track
down Clyde and bring him to justice.
Mason made several conjectures about Clyde Griffiths and his motive for killing
Roberta Alden, based on two basic beliefs: that sexual indiscretions often
make people desperate, and that people of higher class will take advantage
of those of the lower class. His sole mistake was solely in over-estimating
Clyde's social stature.
After Clyde left Roberta to drown, he headed to Sharon, where he would be
a guest of the Cranstons at their summer lodge. He did not believe himself
guilty of murder, as what happened was an accident - but fleeing the scene
would not support his innocence. Walking down the road to Three Mile Bay,
he thought of Roberta's death and ghosts, thus scaring himself when he
ran into two men and a boy around eleven PM, themselves on a hunting and
fishing trip. Arriving very late at Three Mile Bay, he waited in hiding
for the eight-thirty launch that would take him to Sharon, pretending
to have taken the bus from Raquette Lake. He takes the ferry, attracting
the attention of no one save a young country girl impressed by how finely
dressed he is. Once in Sharon, he pretends to have arrived from the train
station, not the launch, and the Cranston chauffeur is sent to fetch him.
Even as he heads to the welcoming arms of Sondra and Bertine, however,
he is wary of having committed any mistakes, of risking exposure for his
The town name of Sharon may be meant to evoke the name Charon. Clyde tells himself several times that Clifford Golden and Carl Graham are not Clyde Griffiths, falsely assuring himself of committing the crime without error as well as disassociating himself from the events that occurred. That he doesn't yet see the similarities of the names only shows how lacking in self-awareness he truly is, how culpable he is for the crimes he denies committing.
Clyde puts on a jovial demeanor but is nonetheless tortured by fear and paranoia. Sondra senses something is wrong and assumes that it is financial concerns, since she is now well aware of Clyde's relative poverty compared to her social circle. When she suggests a golfing foursome with Jill Trumbull and Burchard Taylor, Burchard suggests that the losing couple pays for lunch. This pains Clyde, who only has $25 after his trip with Roberta. Sondra has already considered Clyde's situation however and, when the two are alone, gives him $75 to cover the weekend's expenses. As they ride in Burchard's boat to the golf course, Jill teases his driving skills and accuses him of trying to drown them - an innocent comment that sickens Clyde.
Sondra later tells him of a proposed camping trip with several others from
their social circle. Clyde is preoccupied with checking on the local papers
and finding out if there was any mention of a discovered body. He and
Sondra had dinner at the Harriets' that evening, but Clyde could not get
his hands on a paper. However, Sondra announces that, while talking to
Blanche Locke on the phone, Blanche - who was at Three Mile Bay for the
day - told her of a drowned couple discovered at Big Bittern. Clyde is
now panicked and distraught. When Sondra asks him what's wrong, he tells
her he's feeling sick but assures her he'll be fine. Spending a little
time to himself, he only worries further about what he's done. He excuses
himself early for the night, goes back to the Cranston home, and throws
his grey suit into the lake, weighed down with a stone.
A reference to Charlie Chaplin in this chapter helps clarify a question about
setting: though the novel is strongly based on the Gillette murder case
of 1906, it's not set during the exact dates - at the time, Chaplin was
still unknown by the general public. We can safely assume that the novel
is set in more modern times, most likely the mid-1920s when the novel
was published. Chaplin's first movie was made in 1913, right before World
War I (1914-1918), but there is no talk of war among the novel's characters;
by the 1920s Chaplin was internationally famous and the war would have
bypassed the youths that dominate the novel. Burchard Taylor hopes that
the drowned couple isn't somebody they know, as he's afraid it will spoil
the mood for the weekend's amusements. This is a shallow, selfish attitude,
but of a kind that's seen among both the lower and upper class of the
The next morning, Clyde asks the chauffeur Frederick to get the Utica and Albany papers. In the headlines is news of Roberta’s death, her identity not named, and a missing male companion named Carl Graham or Clifford Golden. He begins to panic, quickly dismisses the idea of turning himself in to the authorities, and worries about the three men encountered on the road. Sondra calls to see if he's feeling better and reminds him of the camping trip to Bear Lake this afternoon.
The trip proceeds as planned but Clyde remains preoccupied with being caught, of having his criminal secret exposed. Sondra senses his uneasiness and tries to baby talk him into a better mood. Meanwhile, at the Sharon Inn, Mason continues to gather evidence and hunt down Griffiths. His assistant Burton Burleigh and Earl Newcomb are to question people in Sharon about Clyde's arrival and activities; Coroner Heit is to go to Three Mile Bay to track Clyde's escape from Big Bittern; while Mason, Sheriff Slack, and Slack's three deputies, Kraut, Sissel, and Swenk, track the camping party that Clyde is with.
As the group approaches, they let out warning shots to inform one another,
something which Clyde notices. He debates running away but can't leave
Sondra. While he's in the woods alone, he's approached by Deputy Kraut.
Kraut asks specific questions of his whereabouts in recent days and his
familiarity with Roberta Alden, all of which Clyde denies. Told he was
to be arrested for murder, Clyde asks that he not return to the camp and
face his friends. Kraut complies. Clyde wishes he had indeed run when
he had the chance.
Clyde's refusal to run away may seem puzzling, but it reflects how desperately he wants both Sondra's love and the elevated class status it brings.
Cite this page:
Mescallado, Ray. "TheBestNotes on An American Tragedy".
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