An American Tragedy: Book 2, Chapters 25-30

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Chapter XXV

Clyde attends the dinner dance, where he meets the Trumbells and the Finchleys and all their young friends. He notes how educated, well informed, and self-confident they all are, and how easily they all talk to one another. Clyde is overjoyed when Sondra says that he is to sit next to her at the dinner table.

 

Chapter XXVI

Sitting between Jill Trumbull and Sondra, Clyde is asked about his family background. He lies, saying his father is in charge of a hotel in Denver, and falsely leads people to think that he in fact has some means; he is not without money. This is a relief to Sondra, and she starts to take an interest in him. She invites him to go riding with her sometime, and then they dance together. He compliments her; she invites him to play tennis with her.

 

Chapter XXVII

Sondra finds that she likes Clyde, partly because he clearly adores her, and adulation is what she craves. Jill Trumbell invites Clyde to a pre-Christmas dance at the home of Vanda Steele. Knowing that Sondra may well be there, Clyde cancels an engagement he had made with Roberta for that evening. He knows he is being disloyal to Roberta but he cannot stop himself. He lies to Roberta that he has been invited to his uncle’s and cannot get out of it. He goes to the dance and meets Sondra again. She invites him to another social event, on New Year’s Eve in Schenectady, and hints that he may be able to participate in quite a number of the winter social events of their circle. Clyde is deliriously happy to have Sondra give him so much attention.

 

Chapter XXVIII

Clyde puts off another evening engagement with Roberta with the lie that he must attend a meeting of department heads at work. Roberta wonders what has produced this change of attitude in him toward her. They meet in her room after work, and he wonders what to do, since his feelings for her have gone flat. He gives her a Christmas present and tells her about the previous night, saying untruthfully that he had been to his uncle’s and then was asked to escort Bella and Myra to a social event in Gloversville. Roberta senses that he is concealing something but she does not pursue it. She gives him a Christmas gift of a pencil and fountain pen, and he pretends to be pleased. She senses his coolness toward her. They make a date for Christmas night.

 

Chapter XXIX

Roberta goes home to the family farm for a few days. She confides in her mother about her secret relationship with Clyde. She tells her not to tell anyone. Her mother is concerned, but further discussion is cut off by the arrival of Roberta’s elder brother, Gifford, and then of her father, Titus. The following day their friends the Gabels visit, and Roberta sees in the newspaper they bring an account of the dance the previous Friday that Clyde attended. It lists a different group of participants than Clyde told her about and she wonders about the discrepancy. She wonders what the truth is and whether Clyde really cares for her.

 

Chapter XXX

Gilbert hears of Clyde’s new social success at being invited into the circle of the Finchleys and Cranstons, and he resents it. His father, Samuel Griffiths, however, does not, and suggests that they should invite Clyde again to their house. Mrs. Griffiths therefore invites Clyde to dinner at two o’clock on Christmas Day. Gilbert, annoyed, says he will not be there. Clyde is happy to accept, seeing no conflict with his date with Roberta in the evening.

 

Analysis

Dreiser goes into the minds of his characters at such great length that it is easy to see how Clyde digs himself into the hole he will shortly occupy. He is a reflective man, not without some moral sense. Thanks to the upbringing he had from his parents, he does know right from wrong. He is also aware of certain responsibilities he has to Roberta, and he tries not to disappoint her. But the carrot dangling before him is just too enticing. He resorts to lying to Roberta, and lying is something for which he seems to have a ready facility. If the truth is inconvenient to him, he will alter it, as when he lies to Jill Trumbull and Sondra about his family background. He also has a capacity to lie to himself, to convince himself that his actions are fair and honorable (or at least justified) even when an objective observer might consider they are not.

 

Clyde is caught in what he knows is a tricky emotional situation but he does not have a clear plan of action. He is an interesting mixture of a personality that can be both active and passive. He tends to goes along with what comes up, knowing that his priority will always be the advancement of his social position and his cultivation of the friendship of Sondra Finchley. He has fallen entirely under her spell, and they are well matched in the sense that his capacity and need to adore a woman satisfies her vain need to be adored. Meanwhile, Roberta is fully aware of the precarious position she is in, having given herself, body and soul, to Clyde without any promise of marriage. Marriage is what she hopes for with him, but she knows it is not exactly a likely possibility, since she still thinks that he is well above her in the social scale. She is of course wrong in this. She and Clyde come from similarly poor backgrounds. The similarity between them is emphasized in the portrait of Roberta’s father Titus, who is presented as poor and as a failure in life, without the intellect, determination or imagination to improve his lot—very similar, in fact, to Asa Griffiths, Clyde’s father.

 

 

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