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Sister Carrie

Theodore Dreiser

Chapters 36-42

Chapters 31-35

Chapters 43-47

Summary

Carrie encounters Mrs. Vance and invites her to visit. Mrs. Vance senses that Hurstwood and Carrie are in difficult financial straits. The meeting with her old friend increases Carrie's resentment toward Hurstwood's idleness. Hurstwood turns to gambling and loses sixty dollars. Mrs. Vance calls one day when Carrie is out, but Hurstwood's disheveled appearance shocks her so much that she does not wait for Carrie's return. The news of the incident infuriates Carrie. During a quarrel, Hurstwood drives Carrie to tears by insisting that their marriage is illegal. Soon after, he loses more money gambling.

Carrie decides to look for work as an actress. She finally gets a position as a chorus girl at twelve dollars a week. She uses "Carrie Madenda" as her stage name. Having found work so quickly, she resents Hurstwood's months of joblessness even more than she had before. She insinuates that he is not actually looking for work when he goes out. She resents her new position of having to support Hurstwood her small wage. Now that she is paying the household expenses, her desire for new clothing and small ornaments grows. Rather than paying rent, she buys a new pair of shoes, and Hurstwood begins buying groceries on credit. Carrie befriends another chorus girl, Lola, and they start spending evenings out together.

Carrie receives a more important position and a six dollar raise, but she hides the news from Hurstwood. She buys more clothes and again runs short on rent. Hurstwood continues to buy on credit. She and Hurstwood quarrel over expenses. He knows that she is lying about her income because he sees the new things she has purchased. Once, she spends a whole evening out with Lola and her friends. They go to dinner, and Carrie is reminded of the Vances and Mr. Ames. She wonders whether she would make a good actress and what Mr. Ames would think of her.

Carrie's show goes on the road, so she finds another position as a chorus girl for twenty dollars a week. Carrie realizes that Hurstwood was lying about the business opportunity at the end of the summer. She continues to pay expenses and keep the flat in order. Hurstwood's clothes have started to become worn, and he stops pretending that he is looking for work. However, the workers on the trolley lines begin striking for fewer hours and better wages, and to stave off his creditors Hurstwood decides to work as a driver on the trolleys--to become a scab.

On his first day at work, two policemen accompany him on the car. People shout "Scab!" at him from the street, and some strikers block the tracks with debris. The policemen beat off the strikers. Hurstwood and the conductor clear the tracks. Hurstwood manages to drive away while the strikers toss stones at him. Soon, however, they encounter a larger, angrier mob. Someone hits Hurstwood and a pistol is fired, and Hurstwood quits the job then and there. He returns home and reads the newspaper. Carrie thinks he has quit out of laziness.

Lola asks Carrie if she wants to get an apartment together and split the rent. Carrie replies that she is unsure. Soon thereafter, she gets a speaking part in a play when the original actress quits. She receives $35 a week for her role. She has to buy clothes for the part, but rent day is coming. She decides to move in with Lola because she will only have to pay twelve dollars a month for rent.

Carrie borrows twenty-five dollars from Lola. When Hurstwood leaves for a walk, she writes him a note explaining that she is leaving him. She leaves twenty dollars for him and moves out of the apartment. When Hurstwood returns and finds the note and the money, he sits in the rocking chair for several hours, staring at the floor.

Commentary

Hurstwood's failure to keep up appearances is the beginning of the end of his relationship with Carrie. By neglecting his personal grooming and choosing to wear his old clothing, he signals an acceptance of their poverty. Mrs. Vance's choice to drop her friendship with Carrie because of Hurstwood's appearance reflects the dehumanizing nature of a consumer society. Carrie and Hurstwood have fallen below the level of wealth that Mrs. Vance considers necessary for her to associate with them.

Carrie's relationship with Hurstwood during his decline comes to mirror her relationship with Minnie and Hanson in Chicago years earlier. Once again, she is working for a small wage and giving most of it to someone else, and her desire to spend it on herself is frustrated. The peculiar nature of her situation--a woman supporting a man--highlights the social relations between women and men. In return for a man's support, a woman gives her body. Carrie, however, feels that Hurstwood offers her nothing in return for her financial support. Carrie's inability to spend money on her consumer desires because of the needs of the household cause her to resent Hurstwood for not giving her what she had expected--enough money to become a conspicuous consumer. In fact, his tendency to spend more frugally than Carrie runs directly contrary to her desires.

Hurstwood's dependence on Carrie robs him of his masculinity. Having to depend on his wife's income sharply advertises the fact that he has failed to fulfill his role as a husband. His desperate situation drives him to work as a scab during the strike. The strike is largely a protest of the de-humanized identity of the capitalist wage earner. By striking for higher wages and shorter work days, the workers are simply demanding to be treated like human beings. The company responds to this challenge to its authority by pitting the desperate workers against even more desperate scabs. The strike demonstrates the impersonal nature of social relations. The strikers, scabs, and company men are all faceless; they differ only in their position in the hierarchy of power

Carrie's rising success coincides with Hurstwood's steady decline. As she gains greater access to the public sphere, Hurstwood slowly withdraws from it. Carrie begins staying out during the evenings while Hurstwood waits at home for her. Their situations are now reversed, but since conventional social values do not require a woman to support her husband, Carrie can drift away from Hurstwood without the same problems Hurstwood faced when he neglected Julia. Her choice to leave him is almost entirely motivated by finances--as was her choice to marry him in the first place. Without the burden of paying for their household expenses, she can continue to purchase new clothing and small adornments to improve her appearance. And without his apathy and inability to keep up appearances, she may be able to make and keep high status friends like Mrs. Vance.

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