Skip over navigation

Sister Carrie

Theodore Dreiser

Chapters 31-35

Chapters 26-30

Chapters 36-42

Summary

Carrie and Hurstwood live harmoniously in New York for two years. However, Hurstwood makes a few friends and begins staying out in the evenings. Carrie has no friends of her own, and Hurstwood, thinking that Carrie prefers the domestic life, rarely takes her with him during his evening entertainment. Mr. and Mrs. Vance move in across the hall, and Carrie becomes friends with Mrs. Vance. Carrie notices they are wealthy, and she begins to compare herself to Mrs. Vance. Carrie attends a show with the Vances, and the display of wealth at the theater enthralls her. When she returns to her flat, it now seems insufficient and commonplace. She remembers her old desire to work on the stage.

Carrie attends an evening show with the Vances and their cousin, Mr. Ames. Carrie finds him extremely charming. They eat dinner in a fine restaurant where the exceedingly attentive service and well-dressed patrons give Carrie a taste of the New York high life. Carrie thinks of Ames as an educated man, and she is eager to be agreeable to him. He disdains the ostentatious display of wealth that impresses Carrie as a profound thing. After the show, he returns alone to his lodgings, disappointing Carrie. She wonders if she will ever see him again.

Hurstwood begins to realize what he has lost. He is no longer an important man in important social circles. In the third year, business at the saloon drops off. He tells Carrie they must wait to buy some little things she wants for herself. He irritates her by not consulting her about the purchases he makes for himself. The Vances move out and go on vacation for the summer. The loss of her friend's company and Hurstwood's gloomy mood increase Carrie's restlessness and dissatisfaction.

Hurstwood tells Carrie that he dislikes his current business partner and that he wants to save his money and buy a share in a different business, so they move to a smaller, cheaper flat downtown. She wonders if she has made a mistake in marrying Hurstwood. Meanwhile, the owner of the lot on which his saloon sits sells the building and the land to a new owner who does not want to extend the lease. Hurstwood's partner does not want to re-open the business elsewhere, so Hurstwood's need to get a share in another business becomes even more urgent.

He searches for a new business in which to invest, but everything is either too expensive or too "wretched" for his tastes. The lease on his business runs out, without Hurstwood having found anything new. He has no connections in New York, and he cannot use any of his old ones because of the circumstances of his departure from Chicago. Often, he idles in hotel lobbies, reading the newspaper. During one heavy snowstorm, he spends several days at home reading the paper. He falls ill and loses more time. He also encounters a couple of his old friends from Chicago. Together, these incidents embarrass him and lessen his determination to look for work.

Days pass into weeks. Hurstwood begins pestering Carrie to economize on household expenses. In order to ensure that they spend as little as possible, he begins running all the household errands himself. Carrie notices with dissatisfaction that he skimps on many expenses. She also loses her weekly allowance because Hurstwood does all the shopping. Hurstwood becomes apathetic. He ceases to dress well and neglects his daily grooming. Eventually, he even stops consulting the ads in the papers. Carrie makes a cutting remark about his idleness. They begin sleeping in separate rooms.

Commentary

Hurstwood pays careful attention to Carrie during the first two years of their marriage. Carrie notices that Hurstwood cannot offer her the lavish entertainment and clothing he had in Chicago, but his care to show appreciation for her keeps her happy for a while. However, he repeats the same cycle of neglect he went through with Julia, forgetting to play his role as Carrie's husband. Carrie must depend on Hurstwood to give her money for entertainment. Her access to the public sphere is mediated through him, and he neglects to take her out in the evenings because he believes she enjoys her domestic role.

Carrie's experience in New York symbolizes the impersonal modern experience in which families can live in the same building for years without speaking to one another. In a city teeming with people, it takes her two years to make her first friend. Her life is characterized by an intense isolation. Her only relationship is with Hurstwood; he comprises her entire world.

Mrs. Vance's arrival changes everything. Before Carrie befriends her, she has no standard by which to measure herself. Once Carrie becomes acquainted with someone wealthier than she is, she becomes dissatisfied with her life. Mrs. Vance revives Carrie's consumer desire. Through the Vances, Carrie also regains contact with the theater. She re-enters the world of conspicuous consumption. Unlike Hurstwood and Carrie, the Vances do not have to worry about the prices. Hurstwood attempts to maintain the illusion that he can pay for things without thinking about their prices, but Carrie's demands on his money grow considerably after she meets Mrs. Vance.

Carrie's first encounter with Hurstwood teaches her the difference between taste and flash. Drouet displayed his wealth obviously, but Hurstwood was more subtle. He managed to appear wealthy without drawing too much attention to the money itself. Carrie's encounter with Ames exposed her to a further refinement of wealth and prestige. Ames represents a world of discerning artistic taste that attracts Carrie. Whereas Hurstwood represented the wealth needed to regularly attend shows in the theater, Ames represents the artistic taste necessary to assume a critical attitude toward the entertainment.

Hurstwood's fruitless search for a business incites Carrie's anger and contempt. His search mirrors Carrie's job search during the early days in Chicago. However, Hurstwood pursues an income thinking of everything he has lost, while Carrie pursued one thinking of everything she could gain. His inability and unwillingness to find a job is coupled with an obsession with money. His life will continue to be characterized by his obsession with the prices of things. He causes Carrie's to resent him by taking on all the shopping; by doing so, he is stealing away from her one of the few things over which she has control. Moreover, because he is no longer bringing in an income, Carrie feels that he has broken an obligation to her. Sleeping in another room is her way of refusing to fulfill her part of the marriage contract.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us