An American Tragedy Book 3, Chapters 3-4 Summary

Theodore Dreiser

Book 3, Chapters 3-4 Summary

As Heit examines Roberta’s body, he is moved by her youth and innocence. He remembers, however, that he has to go to Biltz, the home of Titus Alden, and inform Roberta’s mother that her daughter is dead. He thinks again about his friend, Orville Mason, the district attorney. Should Mason be involved intimately in the progress of this case, it would help him immensely in the upcoming election. Heit goes to Mason’s home and informs him of the details. While it is not right to use a murder for political advancement, Heit says, there is no reason he cannot use the situation to gain a competitive advantage. Heit gives Mason all the details of the case, including the sighting of Clyde in the woods by some hunters. Mason gives Heit instructions to have Earl photograph the crime scene, silently thanks Heit for letting him take care of this case, and then begins the investigation as to whether a Titus Alden really lives in Biltz.

Mason drives fifty miles to reach the Alden home. He sees by the dilapidated buildings that the family has gone through tough times, much as he had as a youth. He greets Mr. Alden in the yard, introducing himself and asking if he had a daughter by the name of Bert or Alberta. Mr. Alden corrects him by saying his daughter’s name is Roberta. Mason asks him if he knows a Clifford Golden or a Carl Graham, but these are names Mr. Alden has not heard of. Mr. Alden keeps asking what this is all about, but Mason continues to question him, trying to find out as much information as he can before he breaks the news. He learns that Roberta had been up to visit recently, but is back in Lycurgus, where she works at the Griffiths Collar Company. Mr. Alden begins to suspect the worst, so Mason finally tells him that Roberta is dead, having drowned in Big Bittern Lake. Mr. Alden is overwhelmed by this news. He asks Mason if he may tell his wife alone, and when he does, Mrs. Alden collapses on the floor. Mason goes to the neighbor’s to call for a doctor. Later, he learns from the Aldens that Roberta had been seeing a Clyde Griffiths, and then corroborates this from the postmaster who says Roberta had sent several letters to a Clyde Griffiths. While he at first did not think that so reputable a man as a Griffiths would be involved with Roberta, the initials of all three names are the same. Mason takes Mr. Alden to identify Roberta’s body. Mr. Alden begs Mason to catch and punish whoever did this.