An American Tragedy Book 3, Chapter 34 Summary

Theodore Dreiser

Book 3, Chapter 34 Summary

Reverend McMillan and Mrs. Griffiths travel to the state capital in Albany to see the new governor, David Waltham. Waltham has followed the case proceedings, but had not considered intervening in the order of execution. Mrs. Griffiths presents to the governor a full history of Clyde, stating that though he was not faultless in the incident, neither was Roberta Alden or Sondra Finchley. Governor Waltham, a loving husband and father, can fully imagine her agony at this time. He listens to Reverend McMillan state that Clyde has asked God for complete forgiveness for all his sins and has trusted in Him for mercy. Governor Waltham sympathizes with their views, he says, but he cannot act upon sentiment alone. He asks Reverend McMillan directly if there is anything that Clyde said that would provide new evidence on his own behalf. Reverend McMillan hesitates, having come to the conclusion in his conversations with him, that Clyde was truly guilty. While Mrs. Griffiths is counting on him to intercede on her son's behalf, he cannot bring himself to lie. All he tells Governor Waltham is that he was focused on the spiritual aspect of Clyde Griffiths, not the legal side. With this, Governor Waltham understands Reverend McMillan’s surety of Clyde’s guilt. He apologizes to Mrs. Griffiths, but says that he must let the verdict stand as is.

Mrs. Griffiths leaves, stunned that Reverend McMillan could not tell the Governor anything to commute Clyde’s sentence to life in prison. She tells herself that she can only trust God. She visits Clyde and asks him if there is anything that he said to convince the pastor of his guilt. Clyde cannot bring himself to confess to his mother, which hurts her even more.

In his days remaining, Clyde writes out a statement to be published after his death. In it he says that he has found peace and forgiveness in Christ. He warns the youth of America that it is in Christ alone and a life lived according to Christian principles that can save them. He gives this to Reverend McMillan, though he questions whether or not he truly believes what he wrote.

Clyde meets with his mother one last time before his execution and Reverend McMillan accompanies him into the death chamber. At Clyde’s execution, the pastor is overcome and has to be carried out. He walks the streets seeking some peace with God before returning to Mrs. Griffiths.

Some time after, the Griffiths family is in San Francisco, once more preaching on the streets. Esta’s son, Russell, is with them, causing a passersby to deplore that such a young boy is forced to take part. Encouraged by the response to their preaching, Mr. and Mrs. Griffiths return to their mission. Russell asks his grandmother for money for ice cream. She gladly gives it, justifying this to herself that she must be easier on the boy, for Clyde’s sake.