An American Tragedy Book 2, Chapters 1-2 Summary

Theodore Dreiser

Book 2, Chapters 1-2 Summary

Samuel Griffiths, Asa’s successful brother, owns a shirt collar business in Lycurgus, New York. He and his family live in the nicest house in town; their social level is of the highest. Myra, the elder daughter, is not very attractive. She is unmarried and living at home at the age of twenty-six. She is intellectual rather than social, the complete opposite of her younger sister, Bella. At the moment, Bella is trying to convince her mother to build a summer home at a nearby lake where all the up-and-coming families are moving. Mrs. Griffiths, however, is suspicious of these “new” families and discourages Bella from socializing with them. Bella is unsuccessful at manipulating her mother, so she complains to her brother, Gil, who is also unsympathetic. The projection of spending the whole summer with the Finchleys does not appeal to him. He is unimpressed with Bella’s friends, especially when he plans on working the entire summer.

Samuel Griffiths returns home from a busy day at his office. His favorite daughter, Bella, meets him. He has a soft place for her energetic nature, compared to Myra’s bookish personality. Gilbert comes down to greet him, and asks if he may have a meeting with him the following morning; he has an interesting situation he wants to talk to him about.

At dinner, Bella continues with her report of the doings of the other families on their social level in Lycurgus. Her father interrupts her; he has something to tell the family. While he was on a business trip in Chicago, he ran into Clyde, his nephew. The other members of his family have never met the Kansas City Griffiths and only know that Asa is “some kind of preacher.” Mr. Griffiths explains that Asa is not preaching at the moment but is in Denver in connection with a hotel. Clyde is currently a bellhop in a hotel in Chicago and told his uncle that he wanted to find someplace better. Samuel Griffiths has presented him with the opportunity of working in his collar factory. The girls are ecstatic about a new cousin who looks like their brother, Gilbert. Gilbert, on the other hand, is jealous of his position and does not relish the prospect of competing for attention. Mr. Griffiths assures the family that Clyde is not coming as an equal on their social level. There need be no formal contact unless Clyde proves himself. Bella hopes Clyde is not as dull as her other cousins are; this remark earns her a reproof from her mother.