An American Tragedy: Book 3, Chapters 7-12

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Chapter VII

With his friends at the Cranston lodge, Clyde makes an excuse for why he is late and tries to maintain a carefree manner, despite his inner turmoil. Sondra gives him some money to cover his expenses, and they go to play golf. At the Harriets’ that evening, Sondra announces that two people were drowned at Big Bittern. Clyde tries to stay cool, although all the time he is worrying about whether he has sufficiently covered his tracks following the crime. Claiming to be sick, he leaves the company early, with Sondra, and returns to his room at the Cranston lodge.

 

Chapter VIII
The following morning Clyde reads newspaper reports of the drowning. He learns that the case is considered a murder, and that the authorities are looking for the man called Golden or Graham. In the early afternoon, he and the others go on a trip to Bear Lake. The following day Clyde, at Shelter Beach with the others, has an ominous feeling and he returns in the direction of his tent alone. He is confronted and arrested by Nicholas Kraut, the deputy sheriff of Cataraqui County, who has traveled to the area with Mason and other officials. Questioned by Kraut, Clyde denies all knowledge of the crime.

 

Chapter IX
Clyde is brought before Orville Mason, who has been wondering whether it will be difficult to convict Clyde because of his wealthy connections. Clyde decides it is in his best interests not to admit to anything, so whatever Mason asks him about the crime, he claims not to know anything about it. Mason wants to secure a quick confession, and he tells Clyde that lying can only harm him. He explains that several people will be able to identify him as the suspect. Through it all Clyde remains silent. He will not even admit that he knew Roberta. Then finally he admits that he did know her but he did not kill her. It was an accident. He only took her to the lakes so that he could persuade her to go away and leave him alone. Mason cross-questions him about the discrepancies in his story.

 

Chapter X
Mason tells Clyde’s friends at the camp that Clyde is under arrest for murder, and he examines the contents of the bag in Clyde’s tent. Sondra believes that Clyde must be innocent. The group of friends decide to end their trip and return home. Mason questions Clyde about where the suit is that he was wearing at the time. Clyde lies that he had the suit cleaned and is wearing it. He also tries to lie his way out of Mason’s question about the straw hat. Since a straw hat was found on the lake, how is it that Clyde had another one that he wore on the journey back? Clyde is taken to the county jail at Bridgeburg.

 

Chapter XI
The autopsy establishes that Roberta was still alive when entering the water, which confirms Clyde’s story. Mason and other law enforcement personnel then take him back to Big Bittern to retrace the crime. They discover the tripod that Clyde buried and assume this was the instrument Clyde struck her with. Clyde denies that he had either camera or tripod. But they hire a diver who finds the camera in the lake. Later, back at his office, Mason’s assistant, Burton Burleigh is convinced of Clyde’s guilt and fabricates evidence. He takes two of Roberta’s hairs from her head and threads them in between the door and the lens of the camera, thus “proving” that Clyde struck Roberta with the camera. Mason believes the case against Clyde is complete.

 

Chapter XII
As the press makes hay with the sensational story, Samuel Griffiths makes attempts to keep their name out of the papers, and Sondra’s father reproaches her for her folly in associating with Clyde. The entire Finchley family decides to move to Maine so they can avoid reporters. Samuel Griffiths’ lawyer Smillie interviews Clyde in jail. Clyde denies killing Roberta or wanting to kill her. He repeats his lies about the suit and the hat, and also changes parts of his story. Smillie leaves convinced of Clyde’s guilt.    

    

Analysis
Clyde is caught like an animal in a trap, a trap that he has laid himself. With his rich friends at the lake he is assaulted by the “most frightful dreads and fears” (ch. VII), and his life takes on a schizophrenic quality. As he mingles with his friends at the lake, he is bitterly conscious of how different his spacious room is in the lodge to the smallness of his lodgings in Lycurgus. Everything he has ever wanted is now so close to  him, and yet the knowledge that it could, and likely will, be suddenly taken from  him drive him to torment. He is, as so often, in a dream-like state, but instead of dreaming, as he usually does, of social success and a happy, easy life, his dream now is “half delight and hope and the other half a cloud of shadow and terror” (ch. VII).  There is a cruel irony in the fact that out on a launch in the lake, Burchard Taylor, the young man who is steering the boat, flings it around from side to side, trying to make Sondra lose her footing and making Jill Trumbull call out in anxiety, “What do you want to do, drown us all?” It is as if everything that now happens is a reminder to Clyde of the danger and precariousness of his own position. He does not spare a thought for the dead Roberta, however.

 

In the remaining chapters of this section, the representatives of the law bear down upon him pitilessly. These are men who will not be denied their quarry, and there is barely the thrill of the chase, since Clyde is easily found and arrested. Under questioning he shows himself to be as inept in his own defense as he was in planning the murder, and the way Mason cross-examines him in chapter IX is a prefiguring of the way he will go after Clyde on the witness stand in the trial. It is ironic that Mason at first wonders if it will be difficult to get a conviction because he assumes Clyde is wealthy; he does not know that this “wealthy” man has just had to accept money from Sondra just so he can pay his way on their social outings. The fact that Burton Burleigh plants evidence against Clyde shows that the prosecution will do whatever it takes to get a conviction.

 

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