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Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser. Adobe PDF icon. Download this document as File size: MB What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read. 3 Dreiser's Carrie Celia Montolío notes Without a counsellor at hand to whisper cautious Dreiser, Theodo How Things Work Title: Sister Carrie Author: Theodore Dreiser Release Date: May, [EBook # ] [Yes, we are more than one year ahead of schedule] [This file was first.

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SISTER CARRIE, The Pennsylvania Edition THEODORE DREISER. Page v Sister Carrie: Manuscript to Print; Berkey, Winters, and West collaborated in the. Free kindle book and epub digitized and proofread by Project Gutenberg. Caroline, or Sister Carrie, as she had been half affectionately termed by the family ommend him, you may be sure was not lost upon Carrie, in this, her first.

Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. The Two Faces of Sister Carrie: A Review of International English Literature, Ezgi Erol. Though he followed this principle faith- fully throughout most of his career, it is hard not to see a certain amount of subterfuge present in the characterization of the heroine in his first novel, Sister Carrie.

Perhaps for this reason, Dreiser's defense of Carrie becomes more insistent and shrill in this section, and much less convincing. He tries to justify her desertion of Drouet by telling us she regarded the move to Hurstwood as honorable; elsewhere he comments that "Hurstwood seemed a drag in the direction of honour" simply because his affection for her seemed such a "fine thing" p.

In the diffident marner was nothing of the art of the courtesan" p. But the reader has no cause to see Hurstwood as honorable — on the contrary, he would appear to be anything but — and can only conclude that Carrie is extremely stupid in being taken in by him, or, more likely, is rationalizing once again. Granted, we are told she had "misgivings — and they were as plentiful as the moments of the day" p. But, although much is made by Dreiser of these "misgivings," close inspection reveals that when they do occur, they center almost exclusively around what advantages she can gain.

But then her "average little conscience" tells her to " 'Stick to what you have' " p. A typical example of Carrie's "conscience" at work can be seen when she is on the train with Hurstwood. Upon learning that she has been tricked, her righteous indignation pales as soon as she sees there is a possibility of personal gain in the form of an expense-paid trip in store for her.

It is again difficult not to conclude that terms such as right and wrong have meaning for Carrie only as they pertain to self-interest and self-preservation, and that despite her mild eye and diffident de- meanor she is virtually as calculating as the "mistresses" and "courtesans" whom Dreiser alluded to by way of contrast.

In the third section, Dreiser's problems in defending Carrie grow even greater, for Carrie's desertion of Hurstwood is de- finitely not forced upon her by economic factors; she is making reasonably good money by the standards of the time. In addi- tion, her departure is plainly inconsistent with Dreiser's pre- vious reminders of her passivity, since the decision to desert him is not forced upon her by circumstance and is one she makes 78 TERENCE J.

In short, her final move appears to be motivated by her ambitious nature and seems to be the action of a rather cold and unfeeling person as well. Dreiser attempts to circumvent this problem in two ways: first, by establishing to his own satisfaction that Carrie is perfectly happy with Hurstwood until his lassitude and apathy become so revolting she can bear him no longer, and secondly, by stating that economic factors again force her to seek employment in a field where she meets people who recognize her innate talent and vault her, willy-nilly, into fame and fortune.

Accordingly, we are told she is initially perfectly contented with her lot; she "accepted the things which fortune provided with the most genial good nature" p. She thinks "nothing upon her lack of entertainment such as she had enjoyed in Chicago" p. Her state seemed satisfactory enough" p.

The lure of fame and fortune do not really cause Carrie to leave Hurstwood, so Dreiser argues, but rather his untidy clothes and general apathy which "drove Carrie to seek relief in other places" p.

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Yet almost immediately after her arrival in New York Carrie had begun to regard Hurstwood in a critically negative light: For all her acquiescence, there was something about the way Hurstwood spoke which reminded Carrie of Drouet and his little deal which he was always about to put through.

Other things followed from time to time, little things of the same sort, which in their cumulative effect were eventually equal to a full revelation, p. Vance's affluence "served. When Hurstwood is taken ill, Carrie only sees him as "a helpless creature in sickness, not very handsome in a dull-coloured bath gown and his hair uncombed" p.

Nor can her observation, when she first gains employment " 'If I can he surely ought to. It wasn't very hard for me' " p.

To be told, as an excuse, that she never really loved him, but was "imagining herself in love" p. Earlier, it will be remembered, she confessed her love for him "frankly and tenderly" p. It is essential for Dreiser to convince us that Carrie possesses artistic talent.

Indeed, as the novel proceeds it becomes evident he means to use this as the ultimate device whereby the uncon- ventional aspects of Carrie's behavior can be excused. Early in the novel there appears a brief comment on the nature of mor- tality that, although seemingly irrelevant at the time, turns out to have great bearing on the final evaluation of his heroine. In Chapter 10 we are given certain examples of morality "in ac- tion" which, upon examination, appear out of place in a sup- posed discussion of ethics: Answer, first, why the heart thrills; explain wherefore some plaintive note goes wandering about the world, undying; make clear the rose's subtle alchemy evolving its ruddy lamp in light and rain.

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In the essence of these facts lie the first principles of morals, p. Atfirstglance, one is inclined simply to ques- tion the examples and suspect Dreiser has in sheer sloppiness confused the two.

But closer inspection reveals the confusion is deliberate.

By first equating moral with aesthetic sensitivity and then reminding us of Carrie's significant aesthetic gifts whenever she does something we might regard as callous or immoral, Dreiser hopes we will be convinced that her artistic genius somehow makes her immune to moral criticism, since the two attributes have been shown to be fundamentally one and the same.

As she is artistically sensitive, so the argument runs, she must be morally sensitive as well, given the essential similarity of the two character traits. Even if we were to grant the validity of the premise for the sake of argument, there is little to suggest Carrie is aesthetically sophisticated or very talented.

Her initial experience on the stage was not convincing, despite Dreiser's strident claim that "Carrie was possessed of that sympathetic, impressionable nature which. The only evidence we have to indicate her first performance was at all remarkable comes from Hurstwood and Drouet, whose criti- cal skills we have little cause to respect. As she performs, "Hurstwood realized that he was seeing something extraordi- narily good" p. That Drouet, Hurstwood and the lodge brothers are moved to mawkish displays of emotion over the spectacle of Carrie's idio- tic and ironic!

As a result, Hurstwood's suspicions — that Carrie "would get on the stage in some cheap way and forsake him" p. Despite this, Dreiser attempts to re- assure us that this assessment of her is incorrect because Hurst- wood "did not understand the nature of emotional greatness" p.

Accordingly, he tries to make her rise appear meaningful, and thus convince us of her "emotional greatness," by telling us "people recognized ability" p. But nowhere in the final section is there convincing proof of any such capability, for all her good fortune is so obviously the result of chance.

Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser

Her interpolation of the line " T am yours truly' " p. Her famous frown — so appealing to the portly gentlemen in the front row — is purest accident; she happens to be in a bad mood, and is not acting, or consciously improvising. Most damning, of course, is Dreiser's own presenta- tion of now-affluent Carrie — presumably no longer a material- ist — who "could think of nothing in particular to do" p.

But when she does encounter Hurstwood, now a beggar on the street, "She felt [only] the strain of publicity" p. As a further testimony of her sympathetic nature, we are told in all seriousness of her "excessive pity" for him: "For days, this apparition was a drag on her soul before it began to wear partially away" p. That the "wearing-away" Dreiser speaks of was more than "partial" is seen on the ensuing page, where we are told "Hurstwood was forgotten" p.

Surely if Carrie does grow dissatisfied, upon realizing that "the door to life's perfect enjoyment was not open" p. Yet Dreiser demands we take his word that such dissatisfaction is a legitimate sign of growth and greatness. As if aware the case for Carrie's growth is weak, Dreiser tries to give it some strength through the unconvincing but sup- posedly aptly-named Ames, who echoes Dreiser's own favorable assessment of her. We first encounter Ames dining with Carrie at an expensive restaurant.

Between bites, he suggests " 'it's a shame for people to spend so much money this way' " p. It is on the basis of this, plus Ames' passing reference to the size of a woman's brooch, his incidental comment on the poor literary quality of Dora Thorne, a remark he makes that he " 'shouldn't care to be rich' " and a belief expressed in the value of the theatre, 82 TERENCE J.

It is not surprising to see vapid Carrie impressed by the "good looking" p. But Dreiser hopes the reader will be moved to take Ames as seriously as Carrie does, regard him as a true ideal, and see Carrie's adulation of him as compelling evi- dence of her spiritual growth. When Carrie encounters Ames again, late in the novel, he suggests she try something more serious than musical comedy, because " 'I should judge you were rather sympathetic in your nature' " p.

Dreiser is hoping his read- ers, similarly impressed by Ames, will see his praise of Carrie as proof of his own claims regarding her superior nature.

But Ames is himself so unconvincing and dubious a figure that the attempt fails miserably. Carrie, of course, is "thrilled to be taken so seriously" p.

Ames introduces Carrie to the world of literature and we soon observe her reading Pere Goriot while Hurstwood, that very even- ing, is being kicked about in the snow.

Balzac's tale of a man who sacrifices everything to his ungrateful daughters, being read amidst comfortable surroundings by a woman who, though never having made a sacrifice for anyone in her life, is greatly "moved" by the experience, would be an extremely ironic and telling con- clusion to the novel, were it intentional.

Yet there is no indication the irony is conscious. Dreiser seems to have chosen the book merely because it is a well-known classic, and presents Carrie's ability to read it as another sign of her growth, telling us "she caught nearly the full sympathetic significance of it" p.

As proof, Carrie is shown putting the book down and wistfully ex- pressing pity " 'for all the people who haven't anything tonight' " p. Hurstwood is again conspicuously absent from her sup- posedly deep and thoughtful musings on the derelicts of society.

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Not evil, but goodness more often allures the feeling mind unused to reason" p. The way she has treated others in the attainment of these worthy goals is of course not mentioned. But what one also notices, after all Dreiser has said on her behalf, is the absence of any hard evidence suggesting her defiance of convention — or for that matter, anything she has done — has indeed been motivated by a desire for anything we could term "goodness" or "beauty" or "that which is better," despite what Dreiser wishes us to think.

If she has been driven, it has only been in the direction of the flashy, brittle world of fame and fortune. Yet many reputable critics have taken this final scene as sufficient proof of her growth. Pizer, for example, argues that "her very dissatisfaction and questioning of what she has gained [implies]. Any examination of Carrie's values reveals them to be at best vague and nebulous, at worst disconcertingly banal.

eGyanKosh: Block-2 Theodore Dreiser: Sister Carrie

Never does she move genuinely beyond a preoccupation with the most superficial and materialistic of society's concerns to embrace new values we could genuinely respect. Why, then, did Dreiser give us these two separate bodies of information about Carrie which point in opposite directions?

It must be recalled that as a naturalist, one of his primary pur- poses in writing the book was to show that extenuating cir- cumstances, rather than abstract moral precepts, more often than not determine how an individual behaves. This assump- tion seems commonplace to us today.

MATHESON for her unconventional sexual behavior since her acts, regard- less of circumstance, involved a loss of her "virtue" had Dreiser not taken certain steps to guard against this occurring. Realiz- ing that people who were threatened by poverty and destitution usually were forced by circumstance to behave as they did, Dreiser attempted to show how inadequate and cruelly un- realistic conventional ethics were when it came to evaluating the morality of individuals in such situations.

He also saw that people possess different degrees of moral sensitivity, and por- trayed Carrie accordingly, as a person with minimal moral awareness. This explains why Dreiser makes so much of exter- nal circumstances in Carrie's situations, and also draws such attention to her passivity. But, not content to stop there, Dreiser further reminds us repeatedly that Carrie's behavior was in the interests of attain- ing a higher goal, one with which he hoped his readers could easily sympathize.

This was inserted to provide us with an additional excuse for her actions, afraid as he was that the mere desire for material security might not be enough to condone her behavior. Hence, the references to Carrie's emotional greatness, her instinctive interest in the theatre, and the frequent remin- ders of her sense of dedication and aesthetic sensitivity. Dreiser's problems began when it became evident that Carrie's passivity was inconsistent with her rise to fame and fortune, that her moral insensitivity was incompatible with her supposed emotional greatness, and that the very events in her life pointed to a strong-willed rather than a passive individual.

Put simply, successful, ambitious people are generally by na- ture strong and single-minded. She was not used to slang.

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Her instinct in matters of dress was naturally better… They were free with the fellows, young and old, and exchanged banter in rude phrases, which at first shocked her. This focalisation reverberates ironically against the panoramic or peripheral view of the emotional lives of the other alienated workers.

The narrator all the more glosses their hardship with a parody of excess; after little more than an hour on the job, a physically aching Carrie becomes frustrated with how their bodies endure mindless labour with such apparent ease and apparently without question. Her only connection here is with the machine. Guided by the generic forces of realist solipsism, Dreiser entreats us to observe the primacy of the individual over the collective in a secret act of fetishisation between reader and protagonist.

The latter jumped to the task of punching, with sharp, snapping clicks, cutting circular bits […] an average speed was necessary or the work would pile up on her and all those below would be delayed. She had no time to look about, and bent anxiously to her task. Action affixes to word, conjoining violent words with little clamps and rods of steel; the brute force of the machine sublimates into the according jagged disyllabic verbs: jumping, punching, clicking, cutting, all repetitive actions which extend beyond the control of conscious decision making.

Here we feel the violence of the labour protests, of Haymarket, distilled into syllabic routine. The room darkens. The dank odour of leather thickens.

Sister Carrie

She realises that she, alone, is exceptional. The Bildungsroman ideology and form chafe against the actuality of working- class labour; and that chafing in itself precipitates textual irony for Dreiser, the critic of capitalism. In light of such a remarkable break with realist norms, where certain means demand expected ends, Dreiser arguably forges an immanent critique of both capital and realism at the expense of pursuing any progressive feminist objectives regarding women and labour.

Even whilst Dreiser promotes a certain fixation with the sexuality of unattached working women in the s, he distils this eros into the sensual language of consumer lust when it comes to Carrie, rather than verbally explicit bawdy of her proletarian peers. In the essence of these facts lies the first principles of morals. Whilst Carrie plays at being wife, without ceremony or any legally binding documentation, Dreiser foils this courtship role- play against the jilted Mrs Jessica Hurstwood, who shrewdly considers her legal and economic rights within the institution of marriage.

The rocking chair motif mutually informs the psychological conditions of alienation driving sexual and economic reproduction under the auspices of mass culture. Public commentary of influential men of the era, from Clark University psychologist G. Instinctively, she felt a desire to imitate it.

Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser

The circle of labour and reproduction is closed, and yet its implications for individuation are intensified.

Dreiser appears less interested in emancipating the female protagonist and worker, so much as a reflecting the American zeitgeist of youth into which she is artistically integrated. The final line 76 Moretti, Way of the World, In your rocking-chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel.

If Camus insisted upon imagining Sisyphus happy, Dreiser advises that we envision her wealthy and numb.