An American Tragedy Book 2, Chapters 16-17 Summary

Theodore Dreiser

Book 2, Chapters 16-17 Summary

After that afternoon, neither Clyde nor Roberta can think of anything but the boat ride, though they are frightened at the intensity of the immediate intimacy that they had felt. They think that perhaps it would be best after all just to maintain their professional relationship. After they rowed back to land, they picked up Grace and returned to the boathouse. Both Roberta and Clyde think silently about the best way to get back to town without arousing suspicion. While Clyde is worried that Gilbert will find out about the outlawed relationship between supervisor and employee, Roberta is worried about what people will think of her moral character as one seen to be out alone with her boss, something that just is not done. Grace and Roberta see someone who lodges at the same boarding house and are given a ride back to town. When Clyde declines to go along, Roberta is grateful that he is sensitive to the situation.

The next morning, Clyde is more anxious than ever to see Roberta. He sees her at the factory and asks her if she wishes they were back out at the lake again, as he does. Roberta hesitates, knowing that she has reached a crucial juncture: if she says yes, she had started downward into a moral quandary; if she says no, she will lose the opportunity to be with such a beautiful man. Clyde sees that she is in love with him but hesitates about what to do. Instead of forcing her, he says nothing and goes back to his desk. The next day, Roberta comes to him with a problem, stating that she has stamped the collar size incorrectly. Clyde offers to send the collars downstairs to be washed so they can be restamped. He begs her again to meet him. She explains that the family, the Newtons, she is living with is very strict. She had plans to go with them to a church social the next evening, but she eventually agrees to meet him later in the evening.

On the proposed evening, Roberta tells the Newtons that she is going to visit Mrs. Braley from the factory to learn how to stitch. She meets Clyde and tells him her plans. Clyde is taken aback at the talk of her moving to another department, assuming that Mr. Whiggam, the foreman, is already planning to put some distance between the two. He tries to put his arm around Roberta’s waist, but she chides him for his forwardness. Eventually he cannot hold back, grabs her face and kisses her. She protests at first, but soon relaxes and responds to his caresses. Clyde has never felt so happy and fulfilled in his life.