An American Tragedy Book 3, Chapters 5-6 Summary

Theodore Dreiser

Book 3, Chapters 5-6 Summary

As Mason returns to his office, his anger toward the wealthy class grows. He views Clyde as an idle, evil, rich man who must be punished to the fullest extent of the law. He examines Roberta’s bag and finds the toilet set that Clyde had given her for Christmas, along with his card bearing his first name, but not his last. He begins to suspect that Roberta was pregnant, which means an autopsy must be performed, and travels to Lycurgus with a search warrant.

Mrs. Peyton is aghast when she learns the crime that Clyde is suspected of committing.  In Clyde’s room, Mason finds some old invitations from the social set, along with a locked trunk. He forces the trunk open and finds a cache of old letters from Roberta, Sondra, and Clyde’s mother. He sees that some of these letters are addressed to “Harry Tenet” and assumes that Clyde has long been a suspicious character. Mason reads several of the letters from Roberta, which validates the nature of her and Clyde’s trip to the lake. It is the letters from Clyde’s mother that give Mason a picture of the wanted man. The letters detail the Kansas City crime from which Clyde was fleeing. Mason intends to check with the district attorney in Kansas City to find out more. From Sondra’s letters, Mason ascertains this as a case where a poor but ambitious young man from a religious background has fallen in love first with a poor girl and then a rich girl, necessitating the riddance of the poor girl. Mason’s hatred of Clyde grows. He calls the Finchleys at the lake and learns that Clyde is off with a group camping but is expected to return in a day or two. Mason calls the local sheriff there and arranges for a search party to track down Clyde Griffiths.

In the meantime, Clyde is in a turbulent mental state. He worries over the people who spotted him in the woods as he was escaping from the crime scene. He continues to rationalize that he is not guilty of murder because he relented at the last minute and did not actively kill Roberta, but just let her drown. He jumps at every sound, sure that someone will come to get him. He has removed as many clues to his and Roberta’s identity as he can, though he fails to make a thorough job of it. He attempts to come up with a story to cover his tracks when he reaches Sondra, but is overwhelmed with the fear of discovery.