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American Tragedy, An

a novel by Theodore Dreiser, published in 1925. The plot draws on the 1906 New York murder trial of Chester Gillette. Clyde Griffiths, son of poor street missionaries in Kansas City, yearns for wealth and social status and finds work as a bellhop in a luxury hotel, where he shares the fast life of his fellow workers. But, after a joyriding accident in which a little girl is killed, Clyde flees to Chicago where he meets Samuel Griffiths, his uncle, who employs him in his collar factory in Lycurgus, New York State. Clyde's job is menial and he becomes acutely aware of the wealth his cousins enjoy. He meets and seduces Roberta Alden, a working-class girl, but simultaneously falls in love with Sondra Finchley, a wealthy socialite; by the time Sondra becomes interested in Clyde, he has discovered that Roberta is pregnant. He decides to lure Roberta to an out-of-season lake resort and murder her by faking a boating accident. Clyde loses his nerve at the crucial moment, but Roberta does drown accidentally and Clyde swims to safety. However, he bungles his attempts to cover his tracks and is arrested. Orville W. Mason, a talented district attorney, becomes obsessed with convicting Clyde, and builds up an unanswerable case. Mason's honest thoroughness, coupled with the inept lies of the defence lawyers, prevent the truth from being revealed, and Clyde is convicted, condemned, and executed. See also Proletarian Literature in the USA.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Agha Shahid Ali Biography to Ardoch Perth and Kinross