An American Tragedy Additional Summary

Theodore Dreiser


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

When Clyde Griffiths was still a child, his religious-minded parents took him and his brothers and sisters around the streets of various cities, where they prayed and sang in public. The family was always very poor, but the fundamentalist faith of the Griffithses was their hope and mainstay throughout the storms and troubles of life. Young Clyde was never religious, however, and he always felt ashamed of the life his parents were living. As soon as he was old enough to make decisions for himself, he went his own way.

At age sixteen, he gets a job as a bellboy in a Kansas City hotel. There the salary and the tips he receives astonish him. For the first time in his life he has money in his pocket, and he can dress well and enjoy himself. Then a tragedy overwhelms the family. Clyde’s sister Hester, or “Esta,” runs away, supposedly to be married. Her elopement is a great blow to their parents, but Clyde does not brood over the matter. Life is too pleasant for him; more and more, he enjoys the luxuries that his job provides. He makes friends with the other bellhops and joins them in parties that revolve around liquor and women. Clyde soon becomes familiar with drink and brothels.

One day, he discovers that his sister is back in town. The man with whom she ran away deserted her, and she is penniless and pregnant. Knowing his sister needs money, Clyde gives his mother a few dollars for her. He promises to give her more; instead, he buys an expensive coat for a girl in the hope that she will yield herself to him. One night, he and his friends go to a party in a car that does not belong to them. Coming back from their outing, they run over a little girl. In their attempt to escape, they wreck the car. Clyde flees to Chicago.

In Chicago he gets work at the Union League Club, where he eventually meets his wealthy uncle, Samuel Griffiths. The uncle, who owns a factory in Lycurgus, New York, takes a fancy to Clyde and offers him work in the factory. Clyde goes to Lycurgus. There his cousin, Gilbert, resents this cousin from the Midwest. The whole family, with the exception of his uncle, considers Clyde beneath them socially and will not accept him into their circle. Clyde is given a job at the very bottom of the business, but...

(The entire section is 922 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

An American Tragedy is based on the actual case of Chester Gillette, who murdered his pregnant girlfriend Grace Brown at Big Moose...

(The entire section is 243 words.)

Book 1 Summary

(Novels for Students)

An American Tragedy opens on a summer evening in Kansas City, Missouri, in the early years of the twentieth century. Dreiser...

(The entire section is 243 words.)

Book 2 Summary

(Novels for Students)

Book 2 opens three years later. Clyde is now living in Lycurgus. He fled to Chicago after the car accident and, at his job at the Union...

(The entire section is 279 words.)

Book 3 Summary

(Novels for Students)

Clyde flees the scene of Roberta's death, but circumstantial evidence, including letters to Clyde from both Roberta and Sondra, leads to his...

(The entire section is 165 words.)