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"An American Tragedy" Plot Summary

  • Date Submitted: 11/02/2015 01:16 PM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 62 
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Theodore Dreiser “An American Tragedy”
Plot Summary
The ambitious but ill-educated and immature Clyde Griffiths is raised by poor and devoutly religious parents who force him to participate in their street missionary work. That Clyde is different from the rest of his family is immediately made clear by his feelings of embarrassment and resentment at being involved in such a situation:
“…he and his parents looked foolish and less than normal – ‘cheap’ was the word he would have used if he could have brought himself to express his full measure of resentment of having to participate in this way – and that he would not do it anymore if he could help.”
These feelings of inferiority would remain with Clyde for the rest of the novel, as well as encourage him to dream of success.
At the age of sixteen he takes low-status job as a soda-water clerk. For the first time in his life he has pocket money, which makes him feel on the way to success.   But then Clyde’s elder sister Esta runs off with an actor, gets pregnant outside marriage and returns abandoned and miserable. Not only does Clyde fail to sympathize with his sister fully, but it serves to embarrass him more of his family’s position:
“To think of his being part of a family that was always poor and so little thought of that things like this could happen to it – one thing and another – like street preaching, not being able to pay the rent at times, his father selling rugs and clocks for a living on the streets – Esta running away and coming to an end like this. Gee!”
Later on Clyde begins working at the classy top-rated Green-Davidson Hotel as a bellboy making close to four times the salary he made as a clerk. He soon finds himself in a more sophisticated company and starts to indulge himself in a partying lifestyle. One of his main pursuits becomes trying to gain the attention of Hortense Briggs, a girl who is more than willing to accept his gifts and adoration with little desire toward mutuality.  However,...

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