In Short: Country girl goes to the city and gets wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of money, men, and society.
Why I Read: Because Care was reading it and it had been a while since I’ve read something this “old” (for shame!). Honestly, I’d never heard of Sister Carrie OR Theodore Dreiser before the readalong (though I since realized he wrote An American Tragedy).
Thoughts in General: O from Behold the Stars says it much better than I could… But I’ll be talking a lot more details than I normally do in a book post, so if you don’t want to see spoilers, skip on down to the Bottom Line section. The basic plot of Sister Carrie is that young and impressionable Carrie moves to Chicago to live with her sister. On the train to Chicago she meets a gentleman, Mr. Drouet, who later entices her with comforts such as clothing and a place to live. During this time Carrie kind of sort of looks for work and ends up trying her hand at acting in a small theater production. She “befriends” a Mr. Hurstwood, whom she doesn’t know is married, and they later end up down a deep and dark path to wretched despair.
Or something–this is me being vague. The book apparently takes place over several years and dear Sister Carrie ends up in a very different place than she started. Though she is clearly none the happier in the end. More on this in a bit.
I was pleasantly surprised at how readable Sister Carrie is–especially given that I haven’t read a book that is more than a century old in quite some time. I was immediately swept up into the story and found myself easily reading a chapter or two in a setting. Sister Carrie is often credited as a more journalistic view of the turn of the century and this is indeed something that I really appreciated about the book. We see Carrie as she searches for a job to support herself and pay for her board at her sister’s. So often books of this time period focus on a woman’s role as wife and mother that it was nice to see a turn of the century look at a woman’s work outside of the home. Even if her continual search did bring back nasty personal feelings from my own job searches. Ha!
There’s also a lot to be said about the relationship between Carrie and Mr. Drouet and especially Carrie and Mr. Hurstwood later in the book as she assumes the role of his wife. Spoilers here–the book ends in much unhappiness after Carrie has separated from Hurstwood after he has failed to secure a job after years (though her reason for leaving him was not solely related to this). Her unhappiness comes when she seems to have finally made a name for herself in society and has satisfied every want she could, but none of this has brought her happiness.
I found myself really irritated at Dreiser and his message–is Carrie unhappy because she got too wrapped up in the American Dream and got lost in the material? That as long as she is continually striving for more that she will never really attain happiness or her dream? Should we not want for better or for more? I realize that this can be a trap, but goodness should she have stayed in her small hometown or even worse as a lowly shoe repairwoman living for $4 a week and living under her sister’s roof?
There’s certainly more than I can grasp onto here and oh how I wish I could grab some coffee with the #CarrieAlong folks and chat!
Bottom Line: Glad I read it, and it’s worth your exploring as well. Not the best classic I’ve read but not the worst, either. This one also makes for a great discussion piece. I have so many questions and comments after finishing.
Have you read any Dreiser? What’s the last classic book that you read?