Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Chicago

*Chicago. Great Midwestern American city for which Caroline Meeber, or Carrie, boards a train as the novel opens. When Carrie arrives in Chicago, she is both nervous and youthfully optimistic about her opportunities in this vibrant new place. In depicting this place, with which he was intimately familiar, Dreiser describes an energetic young city of over 500,000 people, full of opportunity for those lucky enough to find and take advantage of it. He depicts the bustling factory and wholesale districts in which Carrie seeks work, the crowded tenements where her sister lives with a husband and baby, and the lovely new mansions erected along Lake Shore Drive, the viewing of which contributes to Carrie’s restless discontent with her lack of money. In spite of the vast opportunities for the industrious, however, the fact that Carrie becomes a mistress to first one man and then another indicates that Dreiser also wished to portray the big city as a place offering moral temptations for young unmarried women, especially those without money. Many of the events that unfold in the first half of Sister Carrie could only happen in a big city, and some of them only in a young, growing city such as Chicago.

Interestingly, Dreiser also briefly depicts a sense of Chicago’s inadequacy and lack of sophistication when Carrie attempts to work as an actress and is told that New York City is the only place in which to begin a stage career. In addition, late in the novel, Carrie’s lover Hurstwood reflects upon the fact that his prior position of some influence in Chicago means nothing in the larger, more sophisticated East Coast city.

*New York City

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(The entire section is 700 words.)