Did You Know?
Originally, the title of 'Sister Carrie' was supposed to be The Flesh and the Spirit.
'Sister Carrie' created quite a controversy since it was believed to be against moral norms during that time. Some criticized it for the title as it gave an impression that the protagonist is a 'nun', while others considered the content too bold for the readers.
Although the book did not appeal to the masses, it garnered positive reviews from most of the critics. The Modern Library rated it the 33rd on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century in 1998.
The story revolves around young Carrie, who leaves her home to explore the world at the young age of 18. Along her way, the naïve Carrie falls in and out of relationships. She is unable to retain a solid relationship and often ends up with the wrong guy.
She eventually learns life's greatest lesson of being independent and self-sufficient. This story is her journey from rags-to-riches. Following is the summary and analysis of Sister Carrie.
Summary and Analysis
Sister Carrie, is set in the August of 1889, and revolves around an eighteen-year old protagonist, called Carrie Meeber, who is all set to leave her hometown of Colombia City and relocate to Chicago in search of a job. With little or no money with her, she is prepared to begin her new life as a working woman in the big city.
On her long journey to the windy city, she befriends a handsome young salesman called Charles Drouet. She is mesmerized by his clothes and the way he talks. They warm up to each other and decide to meet again the following week to familiarize with the city.
Even though Carrie's sister Minnie Hanson, her husband, and their baby, have a small apartment, they graciously ask Carrie to live with them till she gets used to the city and finds herself a job. In return, she agrees to pay the rent for accommodation.
Starry-eyed Carrie's dreams of a fancy working girl lifestyle are crushed when she finds herself punching holes in a shoe factory, which pays only four and a half dollars a week. After all her accommodation expenses, she's barely left with any money for any personal expenses.
Nonetheless, she continues meeting Drouet. As winter sets in, Carrie falls ill and has to stay home. On returning to her job, she realizes that she is no longer welcome there. Soon, problems begin to rise at her sister's residence too, as she is not able to pay her accommodation rent.
Carrie meets Drouet during her search for another job. On listening to Carrie's story, Drouet offers to financially support her for as long as she needs. He buys her clothes and good food. This convinces Carrie to leave her sister's house and move in with him. She starts living with Drouet in a cozy little apartment.
Drouet takes it upon himself to educate her about the ways of the world and society. As days pass by, she realizes Drouet's true nature. He is egoistic and insensitive, and at the same time, kind and generous. However, Carrie is left with no choice but to stay with him as he is the one who provides for her food, clothing, and shelter.
One evening, they are visited by Drouet's friend George Hurstwood, who is a manager at a high-end establishment. He is fascinated with Carrie's naïve innocence and beauty, while Carrie is attracted to his wealth, maturity, and good looks. Hurstwood and Carrie get closer through their frequent rendezvous, especially when Drouet's out of town for work.
On the other hand, Drouet enlists Carrie's name as an actor in an amateur performance. To everyone's surprise she turns out to be a brilliant actor. The next day, Hurstwood confesses his love to her and she reciprocates favorably.
Soon after, Drouet finds out about Carrie and Hurstwood's affair and moves out. And as a parting gift, he informs Carrie that her new lover (Hurstwood) is a married man with children. Meanwhile, Hurstwood's wife comes to know about his affair and decides to divorce him.
Hurstwood realizes that his wife is not going away that easily, and in frantic paranoia, ends up robbing his workplace. He plans on fleeing to Canada with Carrie. However, he knows that Carrie wouldn't go off with him quietly. Hence, he lies to her that Drouet has met with an accident and wishes to meet her. And so, he whisks her off to the train station.
Carrie is now repelled by Hurstwood when she learns of his series of lies. Hurstwood confesses that he has left his wife, convincing Carrie to stay with him. She agrees on one condition that he should marry her.
Once in Canada, Hurstwood returns the stolen money to his previous employer on the condition that he will not be prosecuted. The couple hastily elopes and gets married, unaware that the marriage is invalid because Hurstwood is not yet divorced from his first wife.
The couple shifts to New York and rents an apartment. Hurstwood invests his little savings in a business, and Carrie settles down in a housewife's routine. Soon, Hurstwood's business venture comes to an end, and he's forced to search for a job.
After many failed attempts at searching for a job, he eventually gives up and confines himself to his apartment. Carrie steps out and gets a job as a chorus girl for a Broadway opera to make ends meet. Her fortune begins to rise steadily as Hurstwood's begins to decline. Carrie eventually decides to leave Hurstwood, and moves in with a work friend.
In the following years, Carrie's hard work begins to pay off as her show hits the road, and she is offered newspaper advertisements and other shows. She attains all that she could have wanted: wealth, name, fame, and prestige.
Even then, Carrie feels dissatisfied and unhappy. Meanwhile, Hurstwood starts living at a dingy hotel and then on the streets begging for money. He eventually ends up committing suicide.
Several themes run though this simple story. Themes viz., society and class, woman and femininity, loneliness, ethics, morality, ambition, the role of wealth in people's lives, and marriage. However, wealth, loneliness, ethics, morality, and marriage dominate the entire story.
Carrie seeks wealth and has a taste for elite living which drives her from the arms of one womanizer to the other. It is not just companionship she seeks, but a legitimate companionship-marriage. However, she fails to understand the complexities of a marriage. She leaves Drouet for Hurstwood, but is unable to maintain this relationship through tough times.
She is haunted by loneliness when she is with Drouet as she finds him insensitive at times, and not to mention his salesman job keeps him away.
Carrie stays with Hurstwood because he promises to marry her. She again starts feeling lonely as a housewife while living at New York. At the end of the story, Carrie has all the wealth and comfort she wanted, and yet, she feels lonely.
Ethics and Morals
Some may consider Carrie's life to be immoral and unethical as she lives in with men out of wedlock. During those times, live-in relationships were a taboo. However, she does try her best to be moral by asking both Drouet and Hurstwood to get married to her. While Drouet conveniently ignores this topic, Hurstwood marries her though the marriage is not valid.
She is a starry-eyed 18-year old protagonist. Like many teenagers, she too has big dreams and a desire for wealth and marriage. She works hard and excels at anything she puts her mind to, and is blissfully unaware of her hidden talents and skills.
A salesman by profession, Drouet meets Carrie in the train on his way to Chicago. He lives in with Carrie, but dodges questions regarding getting married to her. At times, he seems insensitive and egoistic, while at other times he is generous and kind.
His concern for Carrie is evident from various incidents such as, he enrolls her name in an amateur theater and also informs her of Hurstwood's marital status.
Hurstwood is a manager at a high-end business. He is also a family man with a wife and children. He befriends Carrie and proclaims his love to her. In the meanwhile, his wife learns of their affair and decides to divorce him. In dire desperation, he robs his workplace and flees to Canada with Carrie, only to return the money and relocate to New York.
If Carrie's story is from rags to riches, his is from riches to rags. Failing to find and retain a job, he begins to survive on Carrie's earnings. On being dumped by Carrie, he runs out of money and without a job, he is forced to live on the streets where he ultimately commits suicide.
Sister Carrie teaches quite a few lessons to its readers. One lesson it teaches is that loneliness cannot be filled with materialistic things. Another lesson it teaches is that self-belief and relentless efforts always pay off.