An American Tragedy Book 3, Chapters 32-33 Summary

Theodore Dreiser

Book 3, Chapters 32-33 Summary

Reverend McMillan continues to visit Clyde frequently over the next several months. He continues to share Bible verses with Clyde, who is attracted to McMillan’s appealing nature. But Clyde cannot quite bring himself to accept the faith the McMillan personifies. McMillan questions Clyde, and Clyde begins to accept the wrongness of his actions concerning Roberta. Eventually, Clyde confesses that he was not sorry that she drowned, though it was still unintentional.

Almost a year after his incarceration, Clyde receives a letter from Sondra Finchley. It is opened by the prison warden, who deems that it is acceptable, perhaps necessary, to deliver to Clyde. In it, Sondra, speaking in the third person as “someone once dear to you,” says that he is not forgotten and that, though she cannot understand how he could do what he did, she feels sorrow and sympathy and wishes him freedom and happiness. The finality of this letter merely depresses him. He listens to the spiritual sung by an African-American prisoner, as well as the chanting of a Jewish inmate nearby. He responds to the words, feeling the depths of his own wickedness. He asks McMillan if he could request to be moved to another cell in order to escape the tortured thoughts that filled it, but nothing comes of this. Roberta's death becomes more and more clear to Clyde, and begins to understand more truths about himself. He discusses this with McMillan, admitting that even as he let her drown, he had murder in his heart. McMillan is shaken by the evil he sees in Clyde and leaves, needing to pray and think over what Clyde has said. Later, he returns to try to convince Clyde that, no matter how deep the sin, God’s grace will forgive it. Still, Clyde believes more in McMillan as God than his mother’s God.

The Court of Appeals denies Clyde’s request for a new trial, feeling that all the evidence had been placed before the first court and the verdict was valid. Clyde is sentenced to die within six weeks. McMillan is the one to convey the news to him. He tells Clyde not to give up hope, that a new governor will come into office before the date of his execution. This governor, McMillan says, has a gentler heart and may listen to an appeal. He promises Clyde that he will see his lawyers, but Clyde has heard this all before.