An American Tragedy Summary
An American Tragedy is 1925 novel written by Theodore Dreiser, perhaps best remembered for his earlier work, Sister Carrie. In An American Tragedy, Dreiser took a notorious murder case and turned it into a classic tragedy, a story of unrequited love and the myth of American success. The story of Clyde Griffiths is a cautionary tale of modern America.
An American Tragedy opens with the naïve, young Clyde, who works as a soda jerk and a bellhop to support his devout parents. Clyde’s work colleagues introduce him to a world of drinking and sex. After a car accident, Clyde flees Kansas City for Chicago, where his dissolute ways continue. There, he meets his wealthy uncle, who offers him a job at his factory in Lycurgus, New York.
While working at the factory, Clyde meets both Roberta and Sondra. After getting Roberta pregnant, Clyde turns his attentions to Sondra. When Clyde fails to procure an abortion for Roberta, she threatens to expose him to Sondra, trying to force him into marriage. Instead, Clyde takes Roberta out on a canoe on Big Moose Lake, where he drowns her.
The remaining parts of An American Tragedy deal with Clyde’s trial, which includes both manufactured evidence against Clyde, as well as his own contradictory testimony. In the end, Clyde is convicted and sentenced to death in the electric chair. The final parts detail correspondence between Clyde and his mother before his execution.