Study Guide

Sister Carrie

by Theodore Dreiser

Sister Carrie Themes

Themes

American Dream
Each of Dreiser’s characters in Sister Carrie search for their own “American Dreams”—the ones offered by a growing and prosperous democratic country. Carrie, a poor country girl, arrives in Chicago, filled with the expectations of acquiring the finer things in life. She imagines the elegant clothes she will wear, the exciting places to which she will go, and the fashionable people with whom she will associate, thinking that everyone who lives beyond the boundaries of her Midwestern state has achieved that higher status. Drouet seeks his own version of the American Dream. He has achieved a certain station in life and wears the clothes to prove it. He frequents the important establishments in town and has befriended many of the right people. Yet, he pursues the other appointments that represent his dream, such as a beautiful woman to adorn his arm and his own home. Hurstwood has the woman, the established home and family, and a good position. He, though, wants more. He knows that his employers leave him out of important decision making, and he knows his friends like him for his position. He seeks love, appreciation, and more prestige.

Change and Transformation
Carrie and Hurstwood undergo dramatic changes from the beginning of the novel to the end. Though gradual, their transformations create immediate repercussions along the way. Carrie’s metamorphosis takes her from country bumpkin to glamorous actress. In her wake, she leaves her disillusioned sister, an angry suitor, and a brokendown man. Hurstwood’s transition moves him from prominent and trusted businessman, husband, and father to homeless street beggar. Behind him survive robbed employers, a dysfunctional family, and a self-satisfied woman.

Choices and Consequences
Hurstwood makes one choice that dramatically affects the rest of his life. While all choices result in consequences, those consequences can be positive or negative. Hurstwood’s decision to take the money from his employer’s safe starts his downward spiral to his eventual suicide.

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(The entire section is 864 words.)