An American Tragedy Book 1, Chapters 14-15 Summary

Theodore Dreiser

Book 1, Chapters 14-15 Summary

Clyde reflects on Esta’s return to Kansas City, and he begins to think more about the problem in relationships between men and women. Although he is upset at the man who got his sister pregnant and then dumped her in a distant city, he recognizes that Esta must bear at least part of the blame. She had not known the man for very long before she went off with him. He thinks about his own relationship with Hortense Briggs and his intention to go to bed with her. He sees that Hortense would not have gotten herself into the same predicament as Esta because she and her friends are too shrewd.

Hortense is still stringing Clyde along, dating other men besides him. He does not know when she will finally submit to his advances, if she will at all. Sometimes she seems to like him but at other times she seems to dislike him. She is all he can think of, however, though even in his dreams they never have sex. He does not see why she holds him at an arm’s distance; she does not have a better background than he does. She gets him to buy things for her by hinting that there will be some sort of “payback” eventually.

While she is out shopping with a friend, Hortense sees a beaver coat with which she falls in love. The salesman, Isidore Rubenstein, tells her it costs two hundred dollars (though in fact the price is one hundred). He eventually whittles it down to one hundred and fifteen “for her” if she can pay him the money all at once. She considers which man she is dating will be most likely to buy it for her and eventually decides on Clyde. On a date, she walks him past the window and shows it to him. He nervously thinks that a coat like that would cost two hundred dollars, but Hortense tells him she cannot imagine that it would be more than one hundred twenty-five. She hints that there is “nothing” she would not do if he got her that coat. Clyde tries to reason out how he can afford it, as he is now paying his mother twice as much of his salary to help out Esta. He eventually decides that he can put twenty-five dollars down and pay the balance in two, fifty-dollar installments if the shop will accept time payments.