Sister Carrie | Study Guide

Theodore Dreiser

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Sister Carrie | Chapter 27 | Summary

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Summary

When Hurstwood reads Carrie's letter he responds with a surprising uptick in his mood. He decides, "She wouldn't write at all if she didn't care for me." Once again his mind is taken up with thoughts of Carrie and how he can have her, his worries over Julia's threats pushed aside.

When he enters the Palmer House where he is still saying, Hurstwood thinks he sees Drouet. A clerk confirms Drouet is staying there, and Hurstwood's spirits soar even higher as he contemplates a split between Carrie and Drouet. He goes immediately to the apartment to see what he can find out. The same chambermaid who told Drouet about Hurstwood's visits lies and tells Hurstwood that Carrie is out for the evening, so he returns to the saloon.

A good friend of Hurstwood, Mr. Taintor, comes to the saloon and, as the theater crowd arrives, Hurstwood is glad to join in the lively conversations. He drinks with his patrons, achieving a rosy glow by closing time. When he checks the cash drawers and safe to be sure they are secure, he finds the safe is open. This is extremely odd; after investigating further, he pulls the cash drawers out and decides to count the money—the sum of which is ten thousand dollars. Almost as if in a trance, Hurstwood thinks about having that kind of money for his own, and he lingers over locking the money away in the safe. He can't bring himself to do it, even though he tries several times. His thoughts are of what having the money and Carrie would mean—a fresh start.

Finally Hurstwood makes up his mind to take the money. He packs it in a satchel. Then he puts the money back, but he realizes he has put it in the wrong boxes. He takes it out again to straighten it up, only for the safe's lock to spring so he can no longer open it. Now he feels he must not only keep the money, but he must get away as quickly as possible. He calls the train station and learns he can take trains to Detroit and Montreal, reaching the Canadian city by noon. He then immediately takes a cab to Carrie's apartment and tells the chambermaid to awaken her because, "Her husband is in the hospital, injured." When a dazed Carrie appears at the door, he bustles her into the cab and whispers to the driver to take them to Michigan Central depot.

Analysis

The once straitlaced and completely respectable Hurstwood has become a cheating husband and a thief in an astonishingly short time. Dreiser writes several pages in applying his own philosophies to try to explain this startling change as Hurstwood debates internally what he should do. He clearly suggests "those who have never wavered in conscience," or the reader, should not judge Hurstwood harshly. He gives every detail of Hurstwood's agonized decision to take the money to try to help readers see how it could happen.

Dreiser explains instinct is powerful in humans, who are really nothing more than animals in stages of development. "Men are still led by instinct before they are regulated by knowledge." The push and pull Hurstwood feels is between a sense of right and the corresponding call to duty battling with his deep desire for Carrie and what appears to be its corresponding necessary evil—stealing the money. Hurstwood is trapped by his situation except for this unexpected solution, which he recognizes as very dangerous. In the end, his fate is sealed by the click of the safe.

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