FALLEN WOMAN IN THEODORE DREISER’S SISTER CARRIE
One might think that Sister Carrie is a love story, but rather it is a story of greed, declining morality, and selfish desires. All central characters are products of a changing economy—decline of agriculture and rise of industry in late nineteenth century. Theodore Dreiser significantly sets the story in Chicago (1889) and later to New York of which industrialization, urbanization and commercialization have magnetized thousands to migrate to achieve the “American Dream” this he stated in chapter 2.
“In 1889 Chicago had the peculiar qualifications of growth which made
such adventuresome pilgrimages even on the part of young girls plausible. Its many
and growing commercial opportunities gave it widespread fame, which made of it
a giant magnet, drawing to itself, from all quarters, the hopeful and the hopeless…”(p.19)
Sister Carrie represents the many Americans who desire to escape poverty by seeking greener pastures. Like Dreiser’s family who constantly searched for economic stability after the fatal business loss of their uninsured woolen mill.
This paper seeks to understand the transformation and later survival of the characters as they move to the tides of a changing economy. Furthermore, we will illustrate the driving force of money and its effects to the characters. Lastly, we will trace the mobility of the characters in their social status particularly Carrie.
Sister Carrie is about Caroline Meeber or Sister Carrie, who leaves home, Columbia to stay with her sister, Minnie Hanson, in Chicago. While in the train, she meets Charles Drouet, a travelling salesman, whose fine clothes impress her.
She needs to pay a rent to the Hansons, so she quickly searches for a job. After several attempts, she gets a position in a shoe factory for four and a half dollars a week. She works hard but soon fails ill and needs to stay in bed for three days. She starts to think to go home after succeeding failures of getting a new job. Luckily, Drouet sees her and offers her money which she declines at the beginning. Shortly thereafter, she leaves the former and agrees to the latter in renting a room. She poses as his wife; in return, he buys her more clothes, takes her to fancy restaurants, and brings her to theatre. He promises to marry her, but she knows that it will never happen.
Drouet introduces George Hurstwood, a manager of a saloon, to Carrie. While the former is out of town, the latter woos her and soon starts an affair, but she breaks up with him when she finds out that he is married. He manages to get her on the train by lying to her about Drouet’s accident. In Montreal, he is encouraged by the two detectives to return most of the money that he steals in the saloon. Before they leave, he marries her not knowing it is a sham.
In New York, he invests to small businesses but none of them succeed, and soon he searches for a job. Carrie decides to find a position in theatres since he fails to get a work. Fortunately, she is hired as one of the chorus girls and later has given more significant roles. When she leaves him, he soon loses the apartment and becomes a homeless beggar. Subsequently, he kills himself because of desperation, but she never learns about it. Although she is paid higher, she is unhappy and hopes to perform in drama rather than in comedy. MONEY: Social Status, Desires, Exploitation and Seduction
Money is the central theme of the story. Dreiser explains his observation on the meaning of money “The true meaning of money yet remains to be popularly explained and comprehend” (p.63). Money should be spent and can uplift one’s status. Both Carrie and Drouet see money as a way of advancement in their status. For instance, Carrie initially arrives in Chicago in train, then she rides in streetcar when she searches for work, but soon she...