An American Tragedy By Theodore Dreiser Character Analysis Samuel Griffiths

Clyde's uncle, the owner of Griffiths Collar and Shirt Company in Lycurgus, New York, personifies the American Dream realized. He places great value on his good name, his family, his wealth, his possessions, and his status. He also believes that working hard develops character, especially for those destined to rise. His attitudes and beliefs seem close to those which Benjamin Franklin expressed in his Autobiography.

Clyde's fortunate uncle is a foil to Clyde's unfortunate father, whom Samuel Griffiths has not seen in thirty years. Back in Bertwick, Vermont, Joseph Griffiths willed his property to his three sons — one thousand dollars to the "mushy" Asa and some fifteen thousand dollars each to Samuel and another son. The chosen Samuel invested his money in the Lycurgus factory. In time, his family became esteemed in the region, if not among the oldest families, then among the most conservative, respectable, and successful. Until Clyde arrived in Lycurgus, nothing had happened to weather or darken its prestige.

Sensing the injustice done to Asa, the incisive Samuel Griffiths wants to help his well-mannered nephew in some way. Then, too, as an affectionate family man, he is moved by the remarkable physical resemblance between his young blood relative and his own son. Cautious by nature, the economic necessitarian yields to sentimental nepotism. But he yields only in his logical framework of conditions and stipulations. And for all his commercial shrewdness, he does not detect as quickly as do his wife and youngest daughter the depths of Gilbert's resentment toward his western cousin.

When his nephew is arrested and charged with murder, the calm and judicious Samuel Griffiths puts a premium on the morality of the golden mean. Generously he provides legal counsel, but with numerous conditions and qualifications. These qualifications rise out of his vanity, family pride, and enlightened self-interest. Most important, he will retain lawyers for Clyde only if they are honest and if Clyde is innocent. Thus in good faith he has invited Clyde to Lycurgus, provided him with a job, with social invitations, and with defense attorneys, but in each instance only up to a point.

After Clyde is judged guilty of murder, Samuel Griffiths does what he must to protect himself, his business, and his family. Indeed, something has happened now to darken his and his family's prestige, and perhaps he and his family have contributed to this. Too disgraced to stay in Lycurgus, he and Gilbert decide to relocate the business in South Boston and the family in one of the suburbs, or elsewhere. Macerated by the course of events, Samuel convinces himself that Asa's treatment by their father, after all, was not unfair. Finally, he regretfully abandons Clyde and rededicates himself to the rule that sentiment in business is folly.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

At the end of the novel, Elvira (Clyde's mother) give her grandson a dime for ice cream because she




Quiz