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Sister Carrie

Theodore Dreiser

Chapters 13-16

Chapters 9-12

Chapters 17-21

Summary

Hurstwood intends to make Carrie "confess an affection for him." His work schedule is flexible, so he takes an afternoon off to see her. They ride a horse-drawn carriage to the prairie outside of Chicago, where he declares that his times with her have been the happiest he has spent in years. He confesses that he loves her and asks that she declare her love for him. She replies with a kiss.

Carrie rejoices in Hurstwood's love for her and agrees to meet again the next Sunday. Mrs. Hale notices that Carrie has been going out riding with another man while her "husband" is away, and the house-maid, who is fond of Drouet, wonders at Hurstwood's two visits while Drouet is out of town. Gossip spreads through the building.

Hurstwood entertains fantasies of "pleasure without responsibility." He does not think he is doing anything that compromises his life. Carrie dines with him on Sunday evening, but she keeps him at a distance, which paradoxically incites his passion even more. They agree to exchange letters in care of the Post Office in order to preserve the secrecy of their affair. Drouet returns from his trip, and Hurstwood tells him that he had called on Carrie once during his absence because he thought she might be lonely.

Drouet tells Carrie that Hurstwood wants to go to the theater with them. Carrie mentions that he called on her twice during Drouet's absence, contradicting Hurstwood's earlier story, but Drouet thinks nothing of it. Carrie and Hurstwood exchange letters and get their stories straight. Carrie is under the impression that Hurstwood plans to marry her as soon as possible. The evening at the theater goes well, and Drouet continues to suspect nothing. A beggar stands outside the theater asking for money to rent a room for the night. Drouet is the first to notice, and he gives the man some money. Hurstwood scarcely notices, and Carrie quickly forgets.

Hurstwood begins to regard his home life with even greater indifference than before. Julia demands a season ticket to the horse races because she wants to show off her daughter. Hurstwood balks at the cost: one hundred and fifty dollars. After quarreling with Julia, he finally agrees to purchase one. However, his concession fails to heal the rift between them. Hurstwood notices that his family has stopped informing him of their activities. He begins to feel as though they are not giving him his due respect.

Meanwhile, Hurstwood and Carrie frequently exchange letters. He urges her to leave Drouet, but she says they must leave Chicago first because she does not want to get married as long as Drouet is around. Her mention of marriage shocks Hurstwood. He tells her that he will take her on a trip soon and that they will get married somewhere else. He is considering marrying her without divorcing Julia.

Drouet's local Elk lodge plans to put on an amateur theatrical to raise funds for new furniture. They need a young lady for one of the parts, and they ask Drouet to find someone. Shortly before rehearsals begin, he asks Carrie to do it. She is nervous at the prospect of acting, but also intrigued, and eventually Drouet convinces her to do it. He informs him fellow lodge members of the actress he has found, giving her name as Carrie Madenda. He tells Carrie that he has given her a stage name to protect her reputation in case the play is a failure. Carrie studies the part and acts part of it out for Drouet. Her performance is surprisingly good for a beginner.

Commentary

The encounter between Hurstwood and Carrie highlights the conventional social attitude towards feminine desire. Carrie's relationships with Drouet and Hurstwood demonstrate a reluctance on the part of the men, and Carrie herself, to recognize the existence of female sexual desire. Carrie's habit of imitating the mannerisms that Drouet remarks in other women makes her the reflection of masculine sexual desire; she is never allowed to express any desire of her own--except for her desire for conspicuous consumption.

Carrie's consumer mentality drives her to buy clothing, trinkets, and jewelry as a way of satisfying her desire. In her relationships with other people, however, she feels pleasure for being desired rather than for feeling desire of her own. When Hurstwood declares his love for Carrie, he begs her to state her own love for him. Instead, she kisses him. Although this implicitly answers Hurstwood's demand, it is also a way for Carrie to avoid asserting her own desire.

Julia's dissatisfaction with her marriage to Hurstwood presents the reader with one vision of the fate of the married woman in a male-dominated, capitalist world. While Julia hopes to divorce Hurstwood, Carrie longs to be married, unaware that marriage might legitimize her relationship but will never give her the freedom she wants. Unsatisfied with her role as Drouet's false wife, she believes that marriage will free her of the web of lies that surrounds her. She wishes to stop imitating the role of Drouet's wife and become the genuine article. What she fails to realize is that Julia, Hurstwood's current wife, has lost her identity through marriage; when Hurstwood begins to neglect her, her marriage to him prevents her from taking any action to restore her access to the public sphere. In the end, Hurstwood's duplicity turns both of his relationships--his "genuine" marriage to Julia and his "false" marriage to Carrie--into imitations. Hurstwood's crucial role in determining the value of the relationships demonstrates one of the conventional standards that permeate the novel: a woman has social standing only when a man desires her.

Interestingly, Julia's protest of Hurstwood's neglect does not take the form of sexual jealousy. Once again, a woman is denied the possibility of expressing her own sexual desire, even as a form of negative response to a man's neglect of her. She demands, rather, that Hurstwood show his appreciation for her by buying her a season ticket to the races. Like Carrie, she expresses her desire through consumerism. Moreover, she wants the ticket so she can take her daughter out in public and show her off; by displaying Jessica, she hopes to excite the desire of a wealthy young man who might provide the opportunity for social advancement by marrying her.

Drouet's offer to secure a role for Carrie in his the play at his Elk lodge revives the theme of the theater. Carrie's assumption of a new name extends a theme that recurs throughout Sister Carrie: that women lack fixed identities of their own. Moreover, Drouet is the one who provides Carrie with the opportunity to act in the first place, and he even chooses Carrie's stage name, thereby demonstrating his power over her identity. Ever since meeting Drouet on the train to Chicago, she has played a role according to his desires, imitating the mannerisms he remarks in other women and acting as his mistress and "wife." Here, she again finds herself playing a role for him.

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