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One of the key ideas that is contained in this novel is that of the American Dream. Note the way that each of the characters have embarked on their own quest for the fulfilment of their American Dreams, the kind of hopes that are available in a democratic country that gives anybody, in theory, limitless possibilities to recreate themselves and acheive wealth and prosperity. This is of course perhaps most obviously indicated in the character of Carrie herself, who arrives in Chicago as a poor country girl but with the desire of tranforming herself into a high-class lady. However, we can also see this in the character of Drouet, who, although he has already attained a good position in society, still longs for a beautiful woman. Hurstwood, too, although he has the beautiful wife and family that Drouet longs for, seeks appreciation for who he is and a position with even more prestige and power.
However, the novel suggests that such dramatic changes and transformations are possible, but only at the expense of hurting others and leaving chaos and pain in their wake. The transformations that Carrie and Hurstwood undergo, for exmaple, are only possible through hurting and alienating others, such as Carrie's sister and Hurstwood's children. The American Dream, while it is presented as being possible to achieve, has a price tag that goes with it, that only seems to bring sadness and sorrow.
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