Sister Carrie | Study Guide

Theodore Dreiser

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Sister Carrie | Chapter 9 | Summary



This chapter introduces readers to Hurstwood's home life. Through both description and dialogue, Dreiser reveals the sumptuous environment and status-oriented lifestyle of Hurstwood, his wife, Julia, and their children George, Jr., and Jessica. Julia's fixation on appearance and the things money can buy is obvious, as is her need for control. She constantly fires and hires maids. She is most interested in how much things cost—the more expensive something is, the better it must be. She is intent on Jessica's marrying well, and Hurstwood regularly negotiates her requests for more dresses for their daughter.

The chapter reveals that a spirit of home is missing from the Hurstwood household. "It lacked that toleration and regard without which the home is nothing." Hurstwood is not particularly close to his children, and he has begun to view his wife as "a disagreeable attachment." Although he has been devoted to a circumspect and conventional way of life, he has recently traveled with other businessmen on a 10-day trip described—with a wink and a smile by the man who invites him—as a place where the men are unknown.


A great deal of foreshadowing is evident in this chapter. The fact that an entire chapter is devoted to Hurstwood indicates he will be important in the novel as a whole. Dreiser sets him up as a man who loves his place in society yet is deeply unhappy in his marriage and home life.

Julia Hurstwood's key personality traits are also revealed. She is not exactly dissatisfied with the status and money provided by Hurstwood, yet she clearly hopes her daughter and son can lift her even higher. She is also keenly watchful over her husband's every move. That she will be viciously jealous should he step out on her seems evident. The chapter's title, "Convention's Own Tinder-Box: The Eye That Is Green," reinforces this notion of jealousy and control. The ending words confirm the home atmosphere is volatile, "easily lighted and destroyed."

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