Pauline Hopkins and Theodore Dreiser: Treatment of Class Distinctions

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Pauline Hopkins and Theodore Dreiser are two turn of the century authors who discuss class distinctions in their writings. Hopkins is hailed as “the most prolific black woman writer at the turn of the last century” (Autori, 2004, pg. 1) because of her best-known work, Contending Forces, while Dreiser is known for writing “the first great urban novel in America”, Sister Carrie (Riggio, 2000, pg. 1). Hopkins and Dreiser address issues such as racism and class distinction, and both authors realistically portray rural and urban American life (Baym, 2007, pg. 724). Hopkins’ Contending Forces speaks of freed Northern blacks and freed Southern mulatto women, all descended from slaves and living in Boston (Baym, 2007, pg. 725). The Southern women in this story are attempting to fit into a society controlled by high-class Northern black women (Autori, 2004, pg. 1). Hopkins personally understood the hardships that these women faced, because she was a “single, self-supporting, independent” woman who had experienced nearly everything that she chose to write about (Autori, 2004, pg. 2). Though Hopkins writes about the negative judgments made by the Northern blacks to the Southern mulattos, positive themes such as female bonding and empowerment also emerge from Contending Forces (Autori, 2004, pg. 2). Dreiser’s Sister Carrie tells the story of a “fallen” woman who becomes a success (Riggio, 2000, pg. 1). The publishing of this book met with much opposition, and the battle to publish it is possibly one of the “most famous stories in American publishing history” (Riggio, 2000, pg. 1). Sister Carrie centers around a young girl who goes to Chicago to try and make a living on her own. Upon arriving, she meets a man who is willing to buy her expensive clothes and take her out to dinner. While she initially resists him, she changes her mind after working a full day. Carrie can never be satisfied, even when she does get the things she wants (Baym, 2007, pg.940). She always...
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