An American Tragedy: Book 2, Chapters 7-12

Chapter VIIClyde is befriended by Walter Dillard, a young man who works in a department store and lives at the same boarding house. Dillard is impressed by the fact that Clyde is a Griffiths, which makes Clyde realize just how important this connection is. Dillard invites Clyde to meet some girls he knows, and his uncle’s family. Clyde is unsure as to how much he wants to cultivate this new acquaintance.Chapter VIIIThe following Wednesday Clyde and Dillard go to a church social. People there are intrigued to have a Griffiths in their midst. Clyde meets two of Willard’s friends, Zella Shuman and Rita Dickerman, and after a while the four of them go to Zella’s home, where they dance. Clyde dances with Rita and is attracted to her sensuality. She appears to like him, also.Chapter IXAt two o’clock in the morning, Clyde walks Rita home. Meanwhile, the Griffiths finally decide to invite Clyde to have dinner with them. They had been ignoring him up to this point. Clyde is pleased, and he immediately loses interest in Rita and Dillard, thinking they are socially beneath him. When he goes to the Griffiths for dinner, he talks first to Mrs. Griffiths in the living room. Then Samuel Griffiths arrives, followed by Myra and Gilbert, who cannot stay for dinner. Clyde does his best to make a favorable impression.Chapter XAt dinner, Clyde answers questions about his own family, and this reference to his poor upbringing embarrasses him. Then Bella arrives with her two friends, Sondra Finchley and Bertine Cranston. Clyde immediately finds them all, especially Sondra, far more attractive than any girls he has known up to this point. They, in their turn, find him attractive, although their interest lessens when they find out that he is not rich. Clyde is enthralled by the social world he glimpses but also feels out of place, as if he does not really belong there.Chapter XIClyde dreams of making more contact with the world of the Griffiths. In the meantime, Samuel Griffiths begins to feel that it doesn’t look right to keep Clyde, his nephew, working at the lowest level of the company. He asks Gilbert to find him a better position and to pay him twenty-five dollars a week rather than fifteen. Gilbert puts him in charge of the stamping room, where collars are stamped with their size and brand. In this department, all the twenty-five employees are girls or women. Gilbert informs him that they expect him to observe strict standards of conduct toward the women, and Clyde readily agrees. Clyde is elated by his promotion.Chapter XIIClyde’s social life is dull, but he follows the events in the social world of the Griffiths and Finchleys by reading the local newspaper. He watches an automobile floral parade in which Sondra Finchley participates, and is quite captivated by her. He also uses his higher salary to move into better accommodations. At work, he notes that some of the girls in his department are attractive; and, since he is the only man there, they take an interest in him. He thinks it might be possible, even though it is a company rule that he must not socialize with the girls he is in charge of, to get to know one of the girls socially, without being found out. At this point he dismisses the idea, not being prepared to break his promise to Gilbert. But then the department gets extra busy and takes on new employees. One of these new girls, Roberta Alden, attracts Clyde’s attention more than any of the other girls in the department. She seems to him to be a cut above the usual type of girl who works there. After she starts work there, Clyde takes an interest in her, a fact that does not escape the notice of the other girls, one of whom, Ruza Nikoforitch, is jealous.Analysis
Clyde continues his very slow upward climb. He acquits himself well in social situations and people tend to like him. Girls find him attractive and intelligent, and he has a sensitivity that his cousin, the self-willed Gilbert, lacks. Clyde’s relentless, compulsive desire to raise his social status continues. He regards the Griffiths’ world as the ultimate to which he can aspire. As class conscious as any of the other characters, he is ready to ditch his relationships with Dillard and Rita because he thinks they are beneath his level, and this is his opinion too of the other residents of the boarding house. He is, after all, a Griffith, and should be cut out for higher things. (He does not seem to realize that he is treating Dillard in exactly the same way that he thinks the Griffiths are treating him.) But for the time being Clyde has to continue in this strange limbo, hanging on to a respected name but unable to participate in all the riches and enjoyments that he thinks that name should entitle him to. And lurking in his past is the shame of his early years of poverty and deprivation. He cannot shake off the memory of it, which influences how he thinks about everything. He is envious, for example, of the power he believes that Gilbert must possess. If only he, Clyde, could possess similar power, he would be able to exorcize the ghost of his Kansas City past. Clyde also lacks self-discipline when it comes to his relationships with women. He gets carried away by his emotions as well as his sexual desires, as the next chapters will reveal.