An American Tragedy (Cliffs Notes) by Martin Bucco

By Martin Bucco

Referred to as the best writers at the American scene, Dreiser is usually known as one of many world's most sensible worst writers, with claims that he's an impurist with not anything yet genius. This tale, informed in grotesque element and with loyal realism, recounts the dilemmas and offerings of a "loser"; we watch him ascend to temptation, fall in transgression, and obtain his acceptable penance.

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Mason's threat of a witness shocks Clyde into picturing the truth for himself: (1) the unintended blow, (2) the boat's upsetting, (3) Roberta's cries for help, (4) his passivity, (5) his swimming to shore, (6) his changing clothes, and (7) his flight. Downhearted after Mason's dynamic presentation, Clyde is heartened by Belknap's opening defense. To distract the jury from the charge of murder, Jephson attacks the defendant as a moral coward. Hesitating and stumbling through his memorized answers, Clyde shows himself a weakling, incapable--Jephson hopes to prove--of murder.

Nowhere is this failure more dramatized than in this section. The narrator's picture of Elvira praying in her dreary mission is that of a biblical figure as an alien in a six-thousand-year-old world. As Elvira prays for help, she thinks of the newspapers and thanks God for this enlightenment. Even some skeptics are moved by her earnestness, faith, and love. The pragmatic Jephson thinks that the religious element which was ready to condemn Clyde might now aid his mother-and Elvira views this as the voice and hand of God.

Her knowledge of men and of birth control are very limited. Her shyness stems, in large part, from feelings of inferiority, a legacy of her early factory days. She is attracted not only to Clyde's charm and position, but to his physical attributes. Her response to nature is sensuous and serene when she picks water lilies and when she trails a hand in the lake. Passionately loving Clyde, she afterwards feels guilty but continues the affair. Despair turns to hope after Clyde agrees to marry her.

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