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.
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.
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.
McMillan is described as being a good son to his mother, which is in contrast
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Esta is nowhere to be found, and there is no explanation for her absence.
Cite this page:
Mescallado, Ray. "TheBestNotes on An American Tragedy".
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