While working as a freelance journalist, Theodore Dreiser wrote his first novel, Sister Carrie, which was accepted for publication by Frank Norris, the author of McTeague: A Story of San Francisco (1899) and an editor for Frank Doubleday, but Frank Doubleday objected to the novel. Bound to a contract, Doubleday printed, but did not distribute or advertise, one thousand copies; few sold, a fact that crushed Dreiser. The book was ahead of its time—readers were not ready for the realism and frank language that Dreiser championed.
Carrie Meeber, the main character, is a young woman from a small town in the Midwest who leaves her family to attempt to make her own way in Chicago. Her excitement at this prospect soon changes to sorrow when she realizes that the life she will lead working in a factory is not glamorous. In a state of despair, she accepts money from a traveling salesman, Drouet, and she moves to his apartment, where she lives in comfort without working. Later, she is tricked into leaving Chicago for New York with another man, Hurstwood, who is more successful than Drouet, but who soon fails. It is hard to read this novel and fully understand the objections that Frank Doubleday and other readers had. One must remind oneself that Carrie, according to the standards of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is a fallen woman. She lives with a man, Drouet, without first marrying him. If that were not scandalous enough,...
(The entire section is 491 words.)
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...
(The entire section is 955 words.)