An American Tragedy Book 1, Chapters 16-17 Summary

Theodore Dreiser

Book 1, Chapters 16-17 Summary

Hortense returns to Rubenstein’s store to ask for a payment plan for the coat. The clerk explains that they accept cash only. The best Hortense can arrange is that he will accept a down payment and put the coat on layaway. Hortense tells Clyde that the coat costs one hundred twenty-five instead of one hundred fifteen dollars because she feels that now she needs a new hat to go along with the coat.

Clyde is ready to give her the last fifty dollars to get the coat out of layaway when his mother announces that she needs to speak with him. She tells him that Esta is back in town and is “in trouble.” Clyde debates whether to tell her that he already knows this, but he feels sorry for his mother and does not want to keep up the fiction of ignorance. He confesses that he has known for six weeks. She begs Clyde not to tell his siblings or his father, which Clyde thinks is ironic because she has not been able to keep the secret herself. Mrs. Griffiths explains that Esta is about to give birth and needs someone to look after her until she is back on her feet. She asks Clyde if he knows where she can get fifty dollars. She suggests that he ask his friends, but he replies that he does not know them well enough to start borrowing from them. He feels guilty as he gives her five dollars and explains that this is all he has (ignoring the fifty dollars in his pocket). She takes it, though she feels disappointed, especially in having to fall back on her son this way.

Clyde has invited Hortense to go on an automobile ride with him and some friends. Sparser has access to a Packard owned by his father’s employer. They decide to go north to Excelsior Springs, where there is a dance hall open on Sundays. It is a cold, snowy January day, but the youths enjoy the ride. Sparser puts his arm around Laura Sipe on the way. Of all the girls present, Clyde thinks none of them are as pretty as Hortense is. When they arrive at the Wigwam, the dance hall near Excelsior Springs, Clyde becomes upset when Hortense dances the first dance with Sparser. The two are holding each other tightly and Clyde is extremely jealous. Hortense thinks he is being silly and goes back to dancing with Sparser, whom she thinks is the nicest boy she has known in quite a while.