Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Caroline Meeber, called Sister Carrie, a young Midwestern girl who rises from her small-town origins to success as an actress. Her story illustrates one part of the author’s division of humankind between the Intellectual and the Emotional. Members of the latter division he calls “harps in the wind,” hopelessly seeking to satisfy an inexplicable yearning for beauty, accomplishment, and the good life. Caroline Meeber belongs to this second group, which performs its sad, forsaken quest in the manner of dancers after a flame. Although Carrie is not capable of much rationalization, she is capable of sensing an ideal, and she has a tenacious energy to bend toward its realization. The key to Carrie’s apparently simple character is that she is a rather complex person. Moved by desires that at first she sees as ends in themselves—to have money, to own fine clothes, to be socially accepted—she enters into an affair with Hurstwood and contributes to his degeneration while remaining virtually untouched herself. Her restlessness and seeming disregard for others are really manifestations of her inability to recognize anything outside of concrete representation. Throughout the book, she is never given to reflection. Although she uses Drouet and Hurstwood to her advantage, she is no gross country girl grasping at opportunity. There is something monolithic in her nature, and certain gifts or curses of sensitivity and pluck combine to...
(The entire section is 889 words.)
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Themes and Characters
A major theme that permeates his work is that human beings have no power over their own destinies but simply move through life in a series of chance events. Carrie Meeber moves through life in this manner and so do her lovers Drouet and Hurstwood. None of these characters make conscious decisions to change their lives in any way; they simply take opportunities as they arise. Carrie, Drouet, and Hurstwood all rely on instinct to guide them and circumstance to present plausible opportunities. Following in the vein of authors Herbert Spencer and Honore de Balzac, Dreiser believed that a natural struggle for existence occurs in both society and in nature and that advancement occurs only through this struggle. Because people rely on instinct rather than reason to guide their decisions, he believes, they move through life haphazardly and have no true control over their fate.
Both Sister Carrie and Dreiser's "masterpiece" An American Tragedy focus on people who are motivated by impulse. They have no control themselves, but rather they feel controlled by class pressures and they, therefore, become victims of a capitalistic society. Though criticized for these views, Dreiser presents the notion of capitalism as debilitating rather than empowering. His view of life debunks the promise of the American dream and his characters become trapped in a brutal society where they have no possibility of achieving true happiness.
Carrie Meeber became...
(The entire section is 1200 words.)
Charles Drouet travels around the country as a salesman, or drummer, for a dry goods firm. He meets Carrie on the train on her first venture from the farm to the city. Drouet perceives himself as quite a lady’s man. Dressed in a vested suit with shiny gold buttons on his sleeves, he fits the 1880 slang term of a “masher,” or a person who dresses to attract young women. He starts a conversation with Carrie, and she cannot help but notice his pink cheeks, mustache, and fancy hat. In addition to his fine dress and good looks, he possesses an easygoing nature that puts people, especially women, at ease. Drouet manages to learn where Carrie is going and to arrange to meet her on the following Monday.
Although the two do not meet on that Monday, Drouet thinks of Carrie often while he enjoys his clubs, the theatre, and having drinks with friends, such as George Hurstwood. He brags to Hurstwood one night about meeting Carrie, “I struck a little peach coming in on the train Friday.” Drouet vows to Hurstwood that he will see Carrie again before he goes out of town.
Drouet runs into Carrie on the street and takes her out to dinner. He impresses her with his lavish spending and worldliness. He gives Carrie money to buy clothes. Carrie sees him as a kind person; Drouet simply enjoys women. He finally convinces Carrie to move in with him. He is thrilled with his “delicious … conquest.”
Unable to keep his conquest to himself,...
(The entire section is 378 words.)
George Hurstwood Sr.
At the beginning of the novel, Hurstwood imagines himself a man of distinction. While not yet forty years old, he has managed to achieve a certain level of success as the manager of Fitzgerald and Moy’s, an elaborately appointed saloon where the best clientele come to socialize. Given his position in the establishment, Hurstwood knows all the right people and can greet most of them in an informal manner. He dresses the part of an important person, too. His tailored suits sport the stiff lapels of imported goods, and his vests advertise the latest patterned fabrics. He complements his suits with mother-of-pearl buttons and soft, calfskin shoes; he wears an engraved watch attached to a solid gold chain. Hurstwood exudes a sense of self-confidence and notoriety.
Hurstwood impresses Carrie the first time they meet. Not only does Hurstwood’s appearance hint at class, but he also charms Carrie with his gentlemanly deference and refined manners. Carrie feels an immediate attraction to Hurstwood.
While Hurstwood associates with Drouet and Carrie as freely as if he were single, he does have a wife and children. At home, Hurstwood displays little of his public geniality although he is always the gentleman. The family revolves about him, generally intent on their own matters but enjoying the status Hurstwood provides for them.
Hurstwood’s downfall begins when Carrie discovers that he is married. Shortly after that, upset that Carrie...
(The entire section is 483 words.)
Carrie, the main character of the story, allows others to guide her actions. This is particularly true of her relationships with men. At the opening of the novel, eighteen-year-old Carrie sits on a train bound for Chicago from the rural Midwest. A Wisconsin farm girl, Carrie dresses true to her ordinary circumstances. She wears a plain blue dress and old shoes, and demonstrates a reserved, lady-like nature. She feels slightly regretful at telling her parents good-bye and leaving the only home and safety she has known, but she looks forward with curiosity and anticipation to her new life in the city.
When a salesman named Charles Drouet starts a conversation with her on the train, Carrie does not know how to be coy and is, instead, simply direct in her responses to him. It is this first bold encounter with Drouet that establishes Carrie’s fate in the world that exists beyond her farm home. Her exchange with Drouet sets the precedent for her relationship with him and other men she meets.
Carrie lives with her sister and brother-in-law until they are no longer willing to support her. Having run into Drouet on the street and renewed her acquaintance with him, Carrie accepts his invitation to take care of her. While her upbringing rings a cautionary bell in her subconscious, Carrie can see only the advantages to having Drouet provide her with room and board. Drouet offers all that Carrie desires—nights at the theatre, beautiful clothes, and...
(The entire section is 372 words.)
Carrie meets Bob Ames at Mrs. Vance’s. Ames has a high forehead and a rather large nose, but Carrie finds him handsome. She likes even more his boyish nature and nice smile. Mr. and Mrs. Vance and Carrie and Ames have dinner together, and Carrie enjoys Ames’s scholarly manner. He discusses topics that seem of great importance to Carrie, and admits to her that money possesses little value to him. Carrie is intrigued by this unusual person and views her own life as insignificant in comparison.
Mrs. Hale lives with her husband in the apartment above the one Carrie and Drouet occupy. Mrs. Hale is an attractive, thirty-five-year-old woman who is Carrie’s Chicago friend. Carrie often accompanies Mrs. Hale on buggy rides to view the mansions neither of them can afford. Mrs. Hale gossips frequently, and Carrie becomes an object of her gossip when Mrs. Hale sees her with Hurstwood while Drouet is out of town.
Minnie, Carrie’s sister, meets Carrie at the train station when Carrie arrives in Chicago. Min- nie dresses plainly and shows the wear and tear of a woman who has to work hard. Her face is lean and unsmiling. Only twenty-seven years old, Minnie appears older. She views her lot in life as duty to her family and sees no room for the pleasures that people around her enjoy. She disapproves of Carrie’s desire to experience the many distractions that Chicago offers. When...
(The entire section is 669 words.)