An American Tragedy: Book 1, Chapters 6-10

Chapter VIClyde gets the job at the hotel and his life changes completely. He loves the work he does, and helped by the other young bell-hops he learns quickly how to look after the needs of the hotel guests. He is excited by the wages he earns and the tips he gets for running simple errands. In one hotel room he sees a party of well-dressed young men and women enjoying themselves, laughing and drinking, and he thinks it is a glimpse of paradise. He notes that they are all about his age. He observes all the comings and goings in the grand hotel and thinks he is getting an idea of what it would be like to be rich. You could do whatever you please.Chapter VIIReveling in the new world that has opened up to him, Clyde makes friends with Ratterer, one of the bell-hops, as well as Doyle, Kinsella, and Hegglund. They are all more experienced than he is, and he enjoys listening to the stories they tell. He can also barely believe how much money he is making—as much in a day as he could make in a week at the soda fountain. At last he has some money to spend on himself.Chapter VIIIClyde lies to his mother about how much he is making in tips, so that he can keep more of his money for himself. Before, he had been contributing three-quarters of what he earned to help with family expenses. He also exaggerates to her the number of hours he works, so as to give himself more freedom in his spare time. He also tells her that he is required to buy new clothes so that he looks well dressed even when he is outside the hotel.The other bell-hops tell him of the adventures they go on following their monthly pay day. They frequent all-night restaurants and go on to a brothel. Clyde is at first shocked by the stories he hears and does not accept any of their invitations to go along with them. But eventually, attracted by the prospect of pleasure and adventure, he agrees to go with them to the restaurant Frissell’s. He is enjoying his new sense of freedom.Chapter IXClyde accompanies six other boys to the restaurant one evening. He is impressed, never having eaten in such a grand place before. They all order alcoholic drinks, but Clyde has never drunk alcohol before, so he doesn’t know what to order. He decides to follow Ratterer and order a Rhine wine and seltzer, since he guesses this is a fairly mild drink. About eleven o’clock they all visit a place called Bettina’s, a brothel. The madam greets them and tells them to make themselves at home. She knows most of them from previous visits. Nine girls come downstairs in revealing clothes.Chapter XThe guests pair off with the girls and begin dancing to a piano accompaniment. A pretty blond girl talks to Clyde and invites him to dance, but he refuses because he cannot dance. But he agrees to buy her a drink. As they talk, he overcomes his wariness of her and allows her to take him upstairs to a small room. He is scared of catching a disease and fears she may charge him more than he can afford, but he does not stop her from undressing in front of him.AnalysisIn these chapters Clyde is gradually acquiring some knowledge of the world, friends his own age, a little money to spend, and nice clothes. He also drinks alcohol for the first time (thus going against the beliefs of his parents) and has his first sexual experience. It does not take him long to shrug off any inhibitions he has as a result of his strict religious upbringing. The allure of sensuality and the desire to acquire and enjoy material things is too strong. The young Clyde is certainly on the up, in a modest kind of way, in these chapters. However, he also has a lot that counts against him, such as the environment in which he grew up, his poverty, and lack of education. The author, Dreiser, was a novelist of the naturalist school, and for the naturalists, people were wholly determined by the larger forces that acted on their lives. According to M. H. Abrams, in A Glossary of Literary Terms, naturalism presented human life as “determined by two kinds of natural forces, heredity and environment” (p. 154). In this view, a person is “helplessly subject to the social and economic forces in the family, the class, and the milieu into which he is born” (p. 154). Whether Clyde Griffiths, who seems to desire to be part of a world that because of his background he is unlikely to be able to enter, can overcome these early handicaps remains to be seen.