Analyze Hurstwood's character in Dreiser's Sister Carrie.

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

George Hurstwood is a most interesting character. He is like a hothouse plant in the security of his job as manager of Fitzgerald and Moy's, but he withers when he makes the fairly common mistake among middle-aged married men of falling in love with a much younger woman. He is suffering from what nowadays is called "middle-age crisis" and "male menopause." He feels dissatisfied with his life. He doesn't love his wife and knows she doesn't love him. Acting on emotion rather than reason, he steals money from the office safe and induces Carrie to run off with him. He knows from the beginning that he is making a fatal mistake, but he can't seem to help himself.

Without the aegis provided by his comfortable job, his impressive home, and his social connections, and living in a strange new city, Hurstwood loses his self-confidence and begins to neglect his appearance. His custom-made clothes get frayed and out of fashion. Dreiser makes a great deal of Hurstwood's deteriorating wardrobe because he is suggesting that the man was all facade and pretense. He makes a bad investment in a saloon and loses much of his dwindling capital when the building gets torn down. He loses more money playing poker in a desperate effort to stop the hemorrhaging of his capital. He has a horrible experience trying to work as a strikebreaker during a big streetcar strike which is turning violent.

Carrie is losing all respect and confidence. Hurstwood is asking her to get by on less and less household money. She decides to try earning money on her own and ends up in a chorus line because of her personal attractiveness. Eventually she is given a minor speaking role and then gets more important parts because she has a winsome personality as well as beauty. As Carrie is moving up in the world, Hurstwood is moving down. She leaves him, and he soon finds himself homeless.

He starts panhandling and collects enough to buy food and rent a cot in a flophouse at night. For a while he works as a janitor in a hotel, but he gets sick and spends a long time in a hospital. When he recovers, he finds that he has been replaced at the hotel. He suffers from the cold and rain. He becomes too wretched even to be a successful panhandler. People refuse to give him handouts because they take him for a drunkard and a bum. After losing all his self-respect he commits suicide by turning on the gas in a dismal room in a flophouse on skid row.