An American Tragedy Book 2, Chapters 5-6 Summary

Theodore Dreiser

Book 2, Chapters 5-6 Summary

Clyde finds himself in Lycurgus, walking through the town on his way to the factory from the train depot. He is impressed with the evident prosperity of the business section and soon finds himself at the office of the Griffiths Collar Company. He presents himself to the secretary as Samuel Griffiths’ nephew. The secretary’s attitude immediately changes and she calls Gilbert’s office. Although Gilbert is said to be busy, Clyde is soon sent back to his office. Clyde is not impressed with Gilbert’s appearance; he sees him as inconsequential and as having attained his present position merely because of his status as the “heir-apparent.”

Gilbert is condescending but makes some effort to be amiable to this unwelcome cousin. His father had said that he was to be treated with some measure of respect simply because of his position as a member of the family; but beyond that, Clyde is to be treated as a regular employee. Gilbert explains that Clyde will start at the bottom of the manufacturing division. He presents Clyde to Mr. Whiggam, who is the foreman of that part of the business. Whiggam shows Clyde what he will be doing at first, showing him the deference required to a member of the family. Gilbert has also arranged that Clyde will be set up in a boarding house—one that is not on the same level of the Samuel Griffiths family but that is suitable for one bearing the name of Griffiths. Clyde is a little taken aback at the simplicity of the accommodations, but he takes it because it is probably the best he can get at his present salary. He wanders the street after dinner, viewing the other residents of this neighborhood as far below even the status of the bellboy he once was.

The next morning, Clyde shows up at the factory and begins his new life. The work is hard and far below his competence, but he appreciates that others assume he is an accepted member of the owner’s family and is learning all aspects of the business before taking his “rightful” place. Soon Clyde comes to like his new life, though he regrets the loss of Hortense, whom he learns went to New York with a man—wearing the fur coat he had so labored to buy for her. He finds his way to his uncle’s home and is overwhelmed by its opulence. He cannot believe he is related to someone who lives in such style. Gilbert tells his sisters that Clyde is not very interesting. Myra wonders why he would come to such an intellectual morass like Lycurgus, and Bella is intrigued by her father’s description of her cousin.