An American Tragedy Book 1, Chapters 3-4 Summary

Theodore Dreiser

Book 1, Chapters 3-4 Summary

Clyde Griffiths’ mood becomes darker, a feeling increased when Esta runs away. Despite her sheltered, religious upbringing, Esta was fairly sensuous; coupled with a certain weakness, this put her in a precarious position. It started when boys began to make passing comments to her, which she began to respond to. Once her trained reserve broke down, she became susceptible to the attentions of boys. Things came to a head when an actor traveling through Kansas City took notice of her. Quite rapidly, their relationship came to the point that the actor suggested that his life—and hers—could not be complete unless they got married, and quickly. He told Esta that because of the “situation” in Kansas City, it would be better if they went to St. Louis where a preacher friend of his would marry them.

One evening, Esta said she was tired and going to bed. When her mother went to check on her, she found Esta’s room deserted, along with some clothes, personal articles, and a small suitcase. When she rushes to tell her husband, Clyde finds a note pinned to Esta’s pillow. Before he can read it, his mother takes it away from him, reads it, and shows it to Asa. The two go into their room to discuss the situation and then come out to tell the children that Esta has gone away for a while but will surely return eventually. Clyde, slightly repelled yet intrigued by the hint of sex implied in this situation, wishes he could find a way to run away from the restricted religious environment of home.

When he is sixteen, Clyde begins to look for a job. He eventually is hired as a soda fountain clerk at a local ice cream shop. He likes the late hours because it prevents him from having to attend his parents' mission services. When his parents discuss moving to Denver, Colorado, Clyde talks about staying in Kansas City. Still reeling from Esta’s disgraceful elopement, they are hesitant to have their older son start his life of independence already. Clyde looks for a place and decides to try the soda fountain inside the most luxurious hotel in Kansas City. He is told there is no opening at the soda fountain, but there might be a need for a bell hop in the hotel. Clyde talks with the bell-hop manager and is told to come back Monday to discuss it.