An American Tragedy Book 2, Chapters 42-43 Summary

Theodore Dreiser

Book 2, Chapters 42-43 Summary

Clyde receives a gushing, "baby-talk" letter from Sondra, relating her time at the lake. He also receives a letter from Roberta, describing her long, tiresome journey to her family’s home. Roberta says she stopped to see her sister and her family, in case she should never see them again; she is determined that they not lay eyes on her lest she is respectable. She talks about her mother and her fear of hurting her in any way. She tells Clyde that she is getting ready for their wedding and elopement, begging him not to disappoint her.

Clyde ponders the significance of these two letters. He is in despair over Roberta and wants to be rid of her so that he can concentrate on Sondra, whom he hopes he may marry this upcoming fall. He writes a letter to Sondra, telling her that he is on his way. He decides not to write to Roberta at all.

Clyde reads in the paper of a drowning at a nearby lake. The body of an unidentified woman was found, but that of her male companion was still missing. The article gives details as to the woman’s appearance, hoping that someone will recognize them and identify her. This story interests Clyde only slightly at first, since drownings are frequent occurrences at lakes during the summer. When he begins to think about it, he imagines himself and Roberta out on the lake and Roberta drowning, thus solving all his problems. He quashes the thought violently, horrified that he would actually contemplate murder, but the thought keeps popping back up to the surface. That night he dreams of being chased by a vicious dog, only to run into a nest of snakes.

While Clyde does not write to Roberta, he does call her, engaging in an indifferent conversation, telling her that he is trying to earn some money for a certain “project.” He then goes to the lake where he meets Sondra, who is staying next door. Sondra tells him later that her mother is suspicious, believing that Sondra instigated Clyde’s visit. She warns Clyde to refrain from showing any interest in her. They manage to sneak a few moments alone together. Sondra suggests that they might even find a way to elope before she comes of age in the fall. Clyde thinks again of drowning Roberta, but insists to himself that he will not become a murderer. Still, he wonders how he can rid himself of Roberta and the baby and win Sondra.