An American Tragedy Book 3, Chapter 24 Summary

Theodore Dreiser

Book 3, Chapter 24 Summary

Jephson leads Clyde carefully through his testimony. He describes his childhood and traveling around from place to place until he was twelve years old, when the family settled in Kansas City. He states that he did not do well in school because of this, being a year behind. He confesses that he did like going out at night to preach on street corners. Jephson tries to ascertain that after the car accident in which the little girl was killed, Clyde could have returned to Kansas City, most likely being put on probation and placed in the custody of his parents as he was still underage. Mason objects to this as being unclear what the legal consequences would have been. Jephson also tries to reveal that Clyde could have returned to his job at the Green-Davidson and presents a letter from Mr. Squires, the manager of the bellhops, stating this to be the case. Instead, Clyde traveled around, using the name of a childhood friend, Harry Tenet, to conceal his identity.

From his testimony, Clyde paints a portrait of himself as being in love with Roberta almost from the start, which was against the regulations of the factory. He says that he did not pressure Roberta to leave the Newtons’ and had no part in finding her a new place. He also says that there was no way that he could enter Roberta’s room at the Gibsons’ secretly, as the door was next to the main entrance. He says that he and Roberta were in love with each other, eventually entering into an “illicit” relationship in which Roberta got pregnant. Clyde continues that he still loved Roberta when he met “Miss X,” though eventually his feelings for her began to wane. Jephson’s questioning gives the impression that Clyde’s love for Miss X was that of a poor boy infatuated with an unreachable woman.

In the testimony of the incident of Roberta’s death, Clyde becomes nervous because he is now telling deliberate lies. He testifies that he had no intention of plotting to kill her, but he wanted to go somewhere remote so that Roberta could calm down enough to think logically about the matter. He states that when he saw how worn out Roberta was, he decided to marry her after all. In the boat, Roberta had thrown herself toward him out of gratitude. Clyde says that he had the camera in his hand, which might have hit her hand or face. The boat tipped over, hitting Roberta on the head. She was flailing so badly that he was afraid to come near her lest she drown them both. Unable to reach her, Clyde swam to shore. It was then that he realized how his attempts to conceal their identities would look like a plot to murder her, and so he ran off. He claims once again that he never planned to murder Roberta, a claim he knows is a lie.