An American Tragedy Book 2, Chapters 3-4 Summary

Theodore Dreiser

Book 2, Chapters 3-4 Summary

It has now been three years since Clyde left Kansas City. Following the accident, Clyde hopped on a boxcar and went to St. Louis, where his watch and his overcoat were stolen. He sees in the Kansas City paper that Sparser and Laura Sipe are in the hospital and under arrest. Sparser gave the police the names of all the boys in the car, along with the address of the hotel where they worked. Mr. Squires gave them the addresses of the boys’ parents. The article reports the parents’ reactions. Mrs. Griffiths just stood there, wringing her hands, sure that Clyde would show up soon and clear everything up.

Clyde makes his way to Chicago, where he finds a job as a delivery boy, far below the status of a bellhop. After several months, he writes to his mother explaining where he is but begging her not to use his real name; he is now living under the name Harry Tenet. Her reply tells him that the family is now in Denver. Esta had a little boy and is now going by the name of Mrs. Nixon. She suggests that he contact his uncle in New York, Samuel Griffiths, about a job. Clyde soon changes jobs to a better hotel, where he reunites with Ratterer, another of the boys from the fateful car ride. With Ratterer’s recommendation, Clyde finds a job at the Union League Club. It is an exclusive men’s club and as such does not have the element of sex Clyde found so appealing in Kansas City.

Clyde soon learns from Ratterer that Samuel Griffiths is a member of the club; he arranges for Clyde to deliver some letters to his room. Clyde is unable to tell his uncle of their connection, fearing that he will be rejected as a low-class job hunter. Eventually, he finds the opportunity to identify himself to Samuel Griffiths as the sun of his brother. Mr. Griffiths thinks Clyde is a far cry from his brother, Asa, and so gives him an audience. Clyde explains that his mother recommended that he write to him about a job but was afraid to be presumptuous about their relationship. This impresses Mr. Griffiths, who tells Clyde there might be a place for him in his collar company, but it would be at the bottom and would pay less than Clyde is getting now at the club. Clyde understands and says he is willing to work up from the bottom. Samuel Griffiths feels that Asa had been given short shrift from their father in terms of his will, so he decides to give his nephew a chance. After a few weeks, Clyde receives a letter from his uncle, telling them to report within the next few weeks and present himself to his cousin, Gilbert, at the mill office. Clyde writes a letter telling his mother of his chance to start anew in the family business.