Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*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


(The entire section is 700 words.)

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

Late-Nineteenth-Century Industrialism
The United States experienced a huge growth in manufacturing in the late 1800s that...

(The entire section is 1020 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Dreiser sets his story in the large American cities of Chicago and New York. He uses the image of the big city as a symbol of wealth and...

(The entire section is 223 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Point of View
Dreiser uses a third person omniscient point of view to tell the story of his heroine, Carrie. Through this point...

(The entire section is 776 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Dreiser uses symbolism throughout his novel to advance his Darwinistic views. The city itself is the most dominant symbol, and it represents...

(The entire section is 540 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Sexual and moral questions arise in an analysis of Sister Carrie because the novel's heroine leads an immoral life yet is never...

(The entire section is 427 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

Late 1800s: Women’s fashions favor Victorian styles. Dress indicates a woman’s status. Upperand middle-class women wear...

(The entire section is 335 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Does Dreiser portray Carrie as a talented actress? Does talent have anything to do with her successful career?

2. Do you think...

(The entire section is 132 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Read An American Tragedy, and look for themes that surface in Sister Carrie as well. Discuss the conflict between morality...

(The entire section is 185 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Andrew Delbanco notes in his introduction to the 1999 Modern Library’s Edition of Sister Carrie that “Carrie’s fate … has been...

(The entire section is 491 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

An American Tragedy is another of Dreiser's works that is classified both as a naturalistic novel and as a classic example of American...

(The entire section is 129 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

Blackstone Audio Books offers Sister Carrie on audiocassette, which was produced in 1989.

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What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

Like Sister Carrie, Dreiser’s second novel, Jennie Gerhardt, draws from experiences in Dreiser’s sisters’ lives....

(The entire section is 216 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Gerber, Philip. Theodore Dreiser Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1992. This biography of Dreiser analyzes his major works. A discussion...

(The entire section is 224 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Theodore Dreiser: The Critical Reception, edited by Jack Salzman, David Lewis, 1972.

H. L. Mencken,...

(The entire section is 394 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Gerber, Philip. Theodore Dreiser Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1992. A biographical and thematic analysis of Dreiser’s major works, which interprets Sister Carrie as a naturalistic novel in the tradition of Émile Zola in France and Stephen Crane and Frank Norris in the United States.

Kaplan, Amy. “The Sentimental Revolt of Sister Carrie.” In The Social Construction of American Realism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. Excellent discussion of the novel within the framework of American realism. Juxtaposes Dreiser’s power as a realist—challenging moral and literary conventions—with his...

(The entire section is 267 words.)