- Year Published: 1900.
- Pages: 557.
Sister Carrie Summary
Sister Carrie has two main characters – Carrie Meeber and George Hurstwood. Whereas Carrie is pretty ordinary, she rises from her low income-earning status to become a lucratively paid actress and comediennes of her time. George, on the other hand, falls from his upper middle-class status to living on the streets.
Neither of these characters changes their fate through vice or virtue. Rather, random circumstances play a hand in their destinies. Their failures and successes also have no identifiable moral value, placing Sister Carrie at a clear departure from the literature of its time.
In the novel, Dreiser touches on various experiences and themes. These range from the comforts of the upper middle class to the grinding poverty of the masses. Similarly, Sister Carrie focuses on the present – with the characters plunging right into the narrative without the audience learning much of their histories.
This writing strategy allows the author the freedom to alter the identities of the characters. However, they all reflect modern American experiences as heralded by the capitalist economy.
Through this development, the reader catches glimpses of the mass rural to urban migration that was atypical of the time. In Sister Carrie, the author aptly captures the thrill and excitement that these experiences engendered.
Caroline Meeber, one of the two main characters in Sister Carrie, leaves her native Columbia City home and heads to Chicago. Although her life is one of regrets, tears, and fears, she is determined to use the big city in her favor.
During the train ride, she encounters Charles Drouet, a traveling salesman whose flashy clothes and laid-back demeanor are a mark of the influence and wealth Carrie hopes to earn in Chicago.
In the city, Carrie lives with her sister Minnie Hanson’s family. She immediately sets off to find work to enable her to pay for room and board at this household. The first job she gets, at a shoe factory, is a bit depressing but she takes it up.
With time, she realizes that she needs to abandon some of her grandiose plans. The Hansons, for instance, discourage her from attending the theater. Additionally, the tiring working conditions cause her to become ill and lose her job.
Once she recovers, she goes about looking for a new job. In this hunt, she runs into Drouet who takes her to lunch and lends her some money to get new clothes. Eventually, the two start living together – an experience that opens her to the fact that Drouet isn’t as ideal as she initially imagined. Still, he teaches her how to behave and dress fashionably.
It is at this flat that Carrie meets George Hurstwood – Drouet’s friend and confidant. The two meet up whenever Drouet goes out of town. In the course of these interactions, Carrie starts working as an actress.
With time, Carrie and Drouet split up while Hurstwood gets divorced. Carrie eventually marries Hurstwood, and they move to New York where Carrie becomes a housewife. However, difficult times force Carrie to look for a job on Broadway. Her fortunes change for the better, and she leaves Hurstwood.
At the end of the novel, Hurstwood commits suicide while Carrie gains prestige, finery, and wealth. However, she never becomes as happy as she initially thought these trappings would make her.
Sister Carrie Themes
1. American Dream
2. Society and Class