Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 955
When Carrie Meeber leaves her hometown in Wisconsin, she has nothing but a few dollars and a certain unspoiled beauty and charm. Young and inexperienced, she is going to Chicago to live with her sister and find work. While on the train, she meets Charles Drouet, a genial, flashy traveling salesman. Before the train pulls into the station, the two exchange addresses, and Drouet promises to call on Carrie at her sister’s house.
When she arrives at her sister’s home, Carrie discovers that her life there would be far from the happy, carefree existence of which she had dreamed. The Hansons are hardworking people, grim and penny-pinching; they allow themselves no pleasures and live a dull, conventional life. It is clear to Carrie that Drouet cannot possibly call there, not only because of the unattractive atmosphere but also because the Hansons are sure to object to him. She writes and tells him not to call, and that she will get in touch with him later.
Carrie goes job-hunting and finally finds work in a small shoe factory. Of her first wages, all but fifty cents goes to her sister and brother-in-law. When Carrie falls ill, she loses her job and again has to look for work. Day after day, she trudges the streets, without success. It seems as if she will have to go back to Wisconsin, and the Hansons encourage her to do so, since they do not want her if she cannot bring in money.
One day while looking for work, Carrie visits Drouet and tells him her troubles. He offers her money, and with reluctance, she accepts it. The money is for clothes she needs, but she does not know how to explain the source of the money to her sister. Drouet solves the problem by suggesting that he rent a room for her, where she can keep her clothing. A few days later, Carrie begins living with Drouet, who promises to marry her as soon as he completes a business deal.
In the meantime, Drouet introduces Carrie to a friend, G. W. Hurstwood. Hurstwood has a good job as the manager of a saloon and has a comfortable home, a wife, and two grown children. More than twice Carrie’s age, he nevertheless accepts Drouet’s suggestion that he look in on her while the salesman is out of town on one of his trips. Before long, Hurstwood is passionately in love with Carrie. When Drouet returns, he discovers from a chambermaid that Carrie and Hurstwood have been going out together frequently. Carrie is furious when Drouet tells her that Hurstwood is married. She blames Drouet for her folly, saying that he should have told her that Hurstwood is married.
Mrs. Hurstwood has meanwhile become suspicious of her husband. Drouet secures for Carrie a part in a theatrical entertainment presented by a local lodge. Hurstwood, hearing that Carrie is to appear, persuades many of his friends to go with him to the show. Mrs. Hurstwood learns of this and hears, too, that her husband had been seen riding with an unknown woman. She confronts Hurstwood and tells him that she intends to sue for divorce. Faced with social and financial ruin, Hurstwood is in despair. One night, he discovers that his employer’s safe is open. He takes several thousand dollars from the safe and goes to Carrie’s apartment. Drouet had just deserted her. Pretending that Drouet had been hurt, Hurstwood succeeds in getting Carrie on a train bound for Montreal. In Montreal, he is tracked down by an agent of his former employer, who urges him to return the money and settle the issue quietly. Hurstwood returns all but a relatively small sum and marries Carrie under the name of Wheeler. Carrie is under the impression that the ceremony was legal.
Hurstwood and Carrie then leave for New York, where Hurstwood looks for work but with no success. Finally, he buys a partnership in a small tavern, but when the partnership is dissolved, he loses all his money. Again he starts looking for work. Gradually he grows less eager for a job and begins staying at home all day. When bills pile up, he and Carrie move to a new apartment to escape their creditors.
Setting out to find work herself, Carrie manages to get a job as a chorus girl. With a friend, she gets an apartment and leaves Hurstwood to himself. Soon, Carrie becomes a well-known actor. A local hotel invites her to become a guest there, at a nominal expense. Carrie now has many friends and admirers, as well as money and all the comforts and luxuries that appeal to a small-town woman.
Hurstwood has not fared as well. He still has not found work. Once, during a labor strike, he worked as a scab, but he left that job because it was too hazardous. He begins to live in Bowery flophouses and to beg on the streets. One day, he visits Carrie, who gives him money, largely because she had seen Drouet and learned for the first time of Hurstwood’s theft from the safe in Chicago. She believes that Hurstwood had kept his disgrace a secret to spare her feelings.
Although Carrie is a toast of the town and successful, she is not happy. She is invited to give performances abroad. Hurstwood dies and, unbeknownst to Carrie, is buried in the potter’s field. As Carrie is sailing for London, Hurstwood’s former wife, daughter, and son-in-law arrive in the city, eager for pleasure and social success, which had been made possible by the daughter’s marriage and Hurstwood’s divorce settlement, in which his family had received all of his property.
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