Book 2, Chapters 14-15 Summary
Clyde is intrigued by Roberta Alden, not just because of her beauty and her apparent admiration for him, but because he is lonely. One benefit of moving from his boarding house was to escape Dillard, Rita, and Zella, but his sole contact with people outside of work is Mrs. Peyton, his landlady. As for Roberta, she is struggling with the local taboo that a factory girl should not get involved with her supervisor. Though she and her roommate, Grace, are considered “outsiders” for having been born in another town, both of them try to become involved in the local social scene. Roberta, however, begins to fantasize about belonging to the social strata on which Clyde (she believes) dwells. The other girls at the factory discuss the attractiveness of Clyde Griffiths, who overhears their conversation. He is flattered with their views of him as a desirable catch, especially when Gilbert pales in comparison.
Clyde struggles with his feelings for Roberta, knowing that she is off limits, as he is her boss. Also, she does not belong to the social world where he would like to be, though she misunderstands his own place in that world. Alone, Clyde spends time at nearby Crum Lake, where a canoe can be hired by the hour. He has seen that swimming and diving would come in handy should he ever be invited by the Griffiths to visit them at their summer home, but it is canoeing that has specifically attracted his attention. He enjoys the solitude that is by choice, rather than the loneliness of his rented room at Mrs. Peyton’s. One Sunday afternoon in July, Clyde rows by himself amongst the summer crowd on the lake. He thinks of the happy days in Kansas City before the accident. He wonders if socializing with Dillard, Rita, and Zella would be better than the loneliness that he now experiences. On the bank, he sees a young girl picking water lilies. He joyously realizes that it is Roberta Alden. He rows up to her and greets her. She is astonished that he has approached her outside of the factory. He invites her to go rowing with him. She is hesitant, since her roommate Grace is somewhere nearby and should not be abandoned. She calls for Grace, but her roommate does not appear. Roberta finally agrees to go rowing with him. As they glide along the water, Roberta trails her hand over the side as she has seen other girls do when in the company of their boyfriends and thinks how handsome Clyde Griffiths is.