Those material things which cause Clyde to contemplate murder are taken for granted by his American Dream Girl. Typifying young, sophisticated wealth, Sondra Finchley is the glass of Lycurgus fashion. She is devoted to clothes and fun and games and romantic love. Society is her stage, and nature is her playground. She plays with the conventions around her but does not break them.
Unlike Roberta Alden, Sondra Finchley is the daughter of a rich manufacturer. She is not only popular with her select social circle, but she is its pace-setter. Her pursuits — swimming, boating, riding, driving, tennis, and golf — seem more like outdoor parties. And at parties it is her custom to shatter young men with her charms, Gilbert Griffiths excepted. In spite of the demands upon her attentions, she remains very much her own young lady, free of entangling alliances or compromises.
But so supreme is Clyde’s adulation of her that this “seeking Aphrodite” becomes infatuated with her worshipper. Cautious and doubtful, she is puzzled by the chemistry of mutual attraction. Dreiser’s treatment of her “Clyde-Mydie” love patter and love letters is deeply satiric. Though intellectually shallow, Sondra is clever, her mind quick and inventive. At Twelfth Lake, she thinks what a great lark it would be to elope with Clyde, but her ingrained sense of the practical reconciles the best of both worlds-until Clyde’s arrest.
In the beginning, Sondra’s interest in Clyde is not real, only a device to irritate Gilbert Griffiths. Furthermore, if harm seems headed her way, she plans to drop Clyde quickly. To deceive both Gilbert and her parents, Sondra uses her friends as “fronts” to Clyde’s entrance into her set. Once in, Clyde is the object of her pretended indifference, her teasing, and her flirting. Feeling herself drawn toward him, she nevertheless keeps him as behaved and leashed as her French bulldog, Bissell, by impressing him with luxuries, by handing him money on the sly, by warning him of her parents’ disapproval, and by conjuring up a picture of matrimonial and executive bliss.
Known only as “Miss X” during Clyde’s trial, and still shielded by her father’s influence and wealth, Sondra retreats to Narragansett. Having seen life’s grimness for the first time in her young life, she broods on the loss of her girlhood innocence. She longs to repossess her letters to Clyde. Yet she writes Clyde one last note — typewritten, anonymous, and in the third person. When Clyde reads of her remembrance, suffering, bewilderment, sorrow, sympathy, and good wishes, the last trace of his golden dream vanishes.