An American Tragedy Book 1, Chapters 18-19 Summary

Theodore Dreiser

Book 1, Chapters 18-19 Summary

That afternoon, the group decides to go out on the frozen river nearby. As they skate across the icy surface, Hortense once again finds herself in Sparser’s company. Slipping and falling, she shows no shame when her skirts fly up above her knees. Clyde is disgusted and argues with her. Hortense resents his sense of ownership of her and is fed up with him. Clyde hints that they should break it off, but Hortense remembers that her coat has not been paid for and begins to calm down. Clyde tells her once again that he is crazy about her but does not see why she must flirt with all the boys. They make up and return to the car for the trip back to Kansas City.

The weather turns even snowier on the return, but Clyde enjoys the peace and calm of Hortense’s head on his shoulder. The boys become nervous about getting back in time to go to work when they run into a traffic jam at the bridge. They discuss different ways to go, but all the roads are blocked by the traffic. It is now almost time for them to be at the hotel. Sparser, still at the wheel, decides he will cut across to a side street, but as he does so, a nine-year-old girl crosses in front of him. He hits her and drags her several feet before he can stop. A crowd gathers around, exclaiming at the tragic death of the little girl. Sparser panics and takes off in the car before the police can catch him. They try to stop him at several corners, but he manages to elude them. The passengers are hanging on tightly in the swaying car as Sparser steers the car around tight corners. He tries to move past a pile of lumber and stones on the side of the road but instead runs into them, causing the car to overturn.

Sparser and Laura Sipe, who is in the front seat with him, are struck unconscious on the windshield. Clyde is trapped in the back seat with the others. He sees that Hortense’s face is bruised. He manages to extricate himself and pulls Hortense out after him; the others follow. Clyde sees that Hortense’s face is cut and bleeding. When she realizes the extent of her injuries, Hortense becomes upset that her face may be disfigured. Hortense ignores her injured friends and the fact that they have just killed a little girl, and she takes off for home. The others are unable to get Sparser and Laura Sipe out of the car. They take off when one of the street’s residents comes to see what the matter is, explaining that his wife has called the police. Clyde overhears the police discuss the accident. Fearing arrest and jail, Clyde runs off.