Free Study Guide for An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

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FREE BOOK NOTES FOR AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY BY THEODORE DREISER

BOOK THREE

CHAPTER FIVE

Summary

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.

Notes

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.


CHAPTER SIX

Summary

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 crime.

Notes

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.



CHAPTER SEVEN

Summary

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.

Notes

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 story.


CHAPTER EIGHT

Summary

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.

Notes

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.

 

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An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser Free BookNotes Summary

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