An American Tragedy Book 3, Chapters 17-18 Summary

Theodore Dreiser

Book 3, Chapters 17-18 Summary

Belknap and Jephson publicly present Clyde as a misunderstood youth, at the mercy of a defense attorney who has a personal political agenda. They say that they must file a formal protest at the state capital against Mason’s request for a special term of the Supreme Court, just so that he will be in the public eye at the time of the elections. Mason dismisses this, claiming that the evidence is clearly against Clyde and so there is no need to delay the proceedings. The special session of the Supreme Court is granted, and Justice Frederick Oberwaltzer is appointed judge of the case, with the Grand Jury set for August fifth, where Clyde is indicted for premeditated murder. Belknap requests a change of venue because of the “stirring up” caused by Mason. Oberwaltzer denies the request, stating that the case has been in the newspapers across the country.

Mason revisits Lycurgus and learns where Clyde purchased the camera and told Mrs. Peyton that he planned to take the camera to the lake. He also learns from Orrin Short that Clyde had asked him where an “employee” could take his wife to get an abortion. When Dr. Glenn is questioned, he identifies Roberta but not Clyde, never having seen him. He also learns about Clyde’s purchase of the two straw hats. A woman comes forward, claiming that she heard a woman’s cries during the time of the murder, while she and her husband had been camping at Big Bittern Lake. He decides to keep this information quiet for the moment. Belknap now exhumes Roberta’s body to examine the marks on the face, to determine if they could really have been made by a camera. He manages to locate Clyde’s suit in the lake, has it dry-cleaned, and keeps it in his closet. However, he is unable to find the camera, leading him to conclude that Mason has it in his possession.

No family member has come forward to support Clyde, but Esta comes across an article in the newspaper in Denver, where she has now married and settled. She takes the paper to her mother, who is in disbelief. They send a cable to Clyde’s attorneys, offering money if he needs it. Belknap advises her to keep her money, as Clyde is adequately represented, and to stay in Denver for now. If word gets out about the Denver Griffiths, they would be hounded by the press. In prison, Clyde is visited by curious country lawyers, preachers, and local girls. Clyde wonders if he could get his brother or sister, or possibly one of his Kansas City friends, to sneak him some tools to break out of prison.