An American Tragedy Book 2, Chapters 38-39 Summary

Theodore Dreiser

Book 2, Chapters 38-39 Summary

Both Roberta and Clyde are shocked over Dr. Glenn’s refusal to perform the abortion. They cling to his suggestion that perhaps Roberta just missed one period and that there is no real reason to worry until she misses a second month. When the second month passes, they return to Dr. Glenn’s, but he again refuses. Clyde has written to his Kansas City friend, Ratterer, for advice, but the only thing that Ratterer can tell him is that abortion is “safe” up through the third month. Around town, he hints at the situation, hoping for some inside information, but all he hears is that it is illegal and no doctor will do it.

Roberta begins to blame Clyde, first for pressuring her to have sex and then for not finding a doctor. She wonders why she should be asked to sacrifice herself for his social position. She arranges another meeting with Clyde, this time telling him that they must be married immediately, or else they will risk being found out when the baby is born only a few months after their wedding. Clyde looks only at the difficulties this will place on his own life. He is too young to be married, he tells Roberta, and he did not plan to marry so soon, not until he has made a sufficient amount of money. He tells her that if they marry in secret as she has suggested, then the Griffiths will be upset that he married out of their social class and without their knowledge. They also might site the company rule that supervisors cannot date factory workers and could fire him. In that case, he and Roberta, along with the baby, will be destitute. He suggests that she might go off alone and have the baby by herself, and promises to send money to her. Roberta, right then, knows that Clyde has no intention of marrying her. She becomes irate and now demands he marry her. She will not be left alone, facing her family with an illegitimate child, while he enjoys his newfound social prestige.

Meanwhile, Sondra has become firmly attached to Clyde, much to her mother’s chagrin. Sondra tells Clyde that her mother is considering taking her on a two-year tour of Europe. She explains that she will not be of age until October; otherwise she would elope with him. If he can wait until then, she will try to discourage her mother from the tour. Clyde is at his wits’ end now with the prospect of losing Sondra for two years, if not forever, in addition to being badgered by Roberta. He thinks of his sister Esta, who found herself in the same predicament and managed to come out of it without trapping the father of her baby, so he does not see why Roberta cannot do the same.