An American Tragedy Book 3, Chapters 30-31 Summary

Theodore Dreiser

Book 3, Chapters 30-31 Summary

The days in prison begin to drag for Clyde. His mother, however, spends most of her time touring the state, giving lectures in churches and missions wherever she can. She finds that there is very little interest in her story among Christians, which makes her feel that they are not as Christian as they could be. They feel that even if he were innocent of the murder, Clyde had confessed to getting Roberta pregnant, a sin almost as bad as murder to many of them. One morning, she finds a Jewish movie theater owner who allows her to use his place to lecture, selling tickets for twenty-five cents apiece. She makes two hundred dollars that morning, an amount that encourages her. She soon makes a total of eleven hundred dollars, over and above the personal costs she has. She learns from Frank and Julia that her husband, Asa, is not well, and so she returns to Denver. Before she leaves, Mrs. Griffiths hands over the eleven hundred dollars to Belknap and Jephson, who are thus encouraged to put effort into preparing for the appeal.

Clyde becomes acquainted with his fellow inmates, all on Death Row for horrendous murders. Miller Nicholson is a lawyer who poisoned an elderly, wealthy man. He assures Clyde that he will soon get used to prison life. Pasquale Cutrone, an Italian who murdered his brother for attempting to seduce his wife, has lost his mind due to worry. He crawls on his knees on his cell floor, licking the feet of a brass Christ that had been given to him. The day comes when Cutrone must go to the electric chair. Clyde listens, imaging each step of the execution as if he were there. When the lights dim, he knows that the switch has been thrown. He hears the executioner pronounce the death of Cutrone. This is the first execution since Clyde’s arrival, and he does not get used to it as his other acquaintances are sent to the chair.

In Denver, Asa Griffiths’ condition improves enough for him to sit up. Mrs. Griffiths tries to resume her fund-raising, but she finds that interest in Clyde’s case has faded. She returns to New York and meets Duncan McMillan, a young preacher who, though convinced of Clyde’s guilt, feels sorry for Mrs. Griffiths. He agrees to visit Clyde at Mrs. Griffiths’ request. He preaches to Clyde and Clyde sees that McMillan is different from the other preachers he has known. Through his positive impression of McMillan, Clyde becomes interested in faith.