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 give her an appeal that her fellows recognize as representative of themselves. As Carrie Madena, she scores a success on the stage by acting in flimsy, superficial parts. What is sad about Carrie is that each time she steps up to the much prized rung that has been just above, her ideal eludes her and she becomes vaguely disillusioned with still another symbol of happiness and success. Thus, she becomes the author’s commentary on people’s pathetic reach for the ideal on the distant peak; reality is the intractable stuff they have to work with to achieve it.
George Hurstwood, the manager of a Chicago saloon, a man who has worked his way into a carefully balanced niche...
(The entire section is 889 words.)