An American Tragedy Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of An American Tragedy

Clyde Griffiths, the main character in this 1925 Dreiser masterpiece, is the eldest son of poor, street-preaching parents. Throughout his childhood the family is on the move, operating missions and preaching the word of Jesus on the street. When Clyde becomes a teenager, he gets his first close-up look at "society" by working as a bell-hop in an upscale hotel in Kansas City. A tragic accident puts him on the lamb, and he eventually winds up in upstate New York, seeking the sponsorship of his uncle, a wealthy, prominent factory owner in the community. Clyde is hired on in the factory and eventually gets promoted to supervisor. He falls in love with and impregnates one of his inferiors, Roberta, a poor farmer's daughter, before realizing that he has a chance at romance with Sondra, one of the "society" girls in town. This conflict ultimately results in Clyde murdering Roberta for the sake of uniting with Sondra, thereby securing wealth and social prominence for himself. The rest of the story is comprised mostly of the legal proceedings that follow. Is Clyde guilty of premeditated murder? Will he go to the electric chair? Might the evidence suggest that Robert's death was actually an accident?
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The review of this Book prepared by Roger

Dreiser's "Tragedy" was based on an actual New York murder and led the way to the genre pioneered by Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood." In it he describes the arc of a young man's life up the ladder of social success and how his secret relationship with a working girl who he impregnates, threatens to destroy that success and, eventually, why he murders her. He does not escape his due, but it carries a nasty taste of human nature to the end.
The review of this Book prepared by Kelly Whiting

Chapter Analysis of An American Tragedy

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Plot & Themes

Time/era of story    -   1900-1920's Romance/Romance Problems    -   Yes Kind of romance:    -   workplace romance Life of a profession:    -   businessman, good becoming bad Crime & Police story    -   Yes Is this an adult or child's book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book Job/Profession/Status story    -   Yes Lover is    -   of a different social class Unmarried Love Triangle?    -   Yes

Main Character

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   business executive    -   accused criminal Age:    -   20's-30's Ethnicity/Nationality    -   White (American) Unusual characteristics:    -   Extremely cynical or arrogant


How much descriptions of surroundings?    -   4 () United States    -   Yes The US:    -   Northeast    -   Midwest Water?    -   Yes Water:    -   drowning Small town?    -   Yes Small town people:    -   nice, like Andy/Opie/Aunt Bee Misc setting    -   fancy mansion    -   prison    -   resort/hotel

Writing Style

Sex in book?    -   Yes What kind of sex:    -   vague references only    -   descript of kissing    -   impregnation/reproduction Amount of dialog    -   roughly even amounts of descript and dialog    -   significantly more descript than dialog

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Theodore Dreiser Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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