Sister Carrie | Study Guide

Theodore Dreiser

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Sister Carrie | Chapters 10–11 | Summary

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Summary

Dreiser opens Chapter 10 with philosophical musings. He warns readers that Carrie is something of a victim of an "arbitrary scale" of judgment that says, "All men should be good, all women virtuous." He states, despite modern naturalistic philosophy, society still has an "infantile perception of morals." Having established his empathy for Carrie's plight, he describes in detail the three rooms she and Drouet are now living in together, quite against the traditional morals of the time. The apartment's location is very desirable, and the rooms are well appointed. Carrie also has lots of beautiful clothes in her wardrobe and has exercised her skills in the home arts to create "an air pleasing in the extreme." Nevertheless Carrie is not completely happy; at times she is haunted by the idea she is a fallen woman. Drouet, on the other hand, is very content and treats her well. Yet she is not in love with him and sees his limitations.

Hurstwood visits the couple, and Carrie is suitably impressed with his demeanor, liking most his clothing and charm. The three enjoy their evening together and make plans to go to the theater soon. Before leaving, Hurstwood also suggests when Drouet is traveling on business he might show Carrie around, and Drouet is pleased with the offer of this arrangement.

As Chapter 11 opens the emphasis is on Carrie's love of fine clothes, Drouet's appreciation of them as well, and her education at his hands about how to use her beauty and feminine wiles to their full extent. She is also learning about life from a neighbor she spends plenty of time with, Mrs. Hale. Mrs. Hale is pretty, disinterested in the domestic arts, very interested in appearance, and a gossip.

Carrie's growth in grace is noticeable; from the first time Hurstwood meets her, he finds her to be special. When he comes upon Drouet with another woman one night in a fancy restaurant, he is surprised Drouet is two-timing beautiful young Carrie and begins to "size up" Drouet in terms of how he himself might be better as Carrie's suitor.

By the time the threesome goes to the theater together, Hurstwood and Carrie are keenly aware of each other's charms, while Drouet is in his own mind, ignorant to the flirtation between them. At the end of the evening Carrie has reduced Drouet to defective even as she lifts Hurstwood to superior in her estimation.

Analysis

In describing the flat Carrie and Drouet occupy, Dreiser mentions a large mirror and several rocking chairs, important symbols in the novel. Carrie's days are spent learning how to be pleasing to Drouet and other men and rocking as she looks at the view and deals with her "average little conscience." If she presses Drouet on the issue of marriage, she is told it will happen soon, and she accepts it. Meanwhile, she is already starting to see Drouet's faults, and this leaves her open for the attentions of another man. That man is Hurstwood, invited into their lives by Drouet himself.

As soon as Carrie meets Hurstwood she begins to compare him to Drouet. Drouet is nothing but pleased Hurstwood apparently appreciates Carrie's beauty and charm, and this will ultimately lead to his downfall with her. So much does Drouet look up to the older man and want everything associated with him to be viewed as lovely, he fails to notice the dangerous chemistry between Carrie and Hurstwood developing right under his nose.

These chapters include many warnings that the relationship between Carrie and Drouet cannot last. Drouet is insensitive in admiring other women and comments about them to Carrie. He is a dullard when it comes to helping Carrie when she feels vulnerable, preferring to gloss over things and turn to pleasure seeking. He obviously feels he can continue to be with other women as he does on the evening Hurstwood comes upon him in a restaurant.

As for Carrie, she quickly realized that she is smarter than Drouet is. When she is exposed to Hurstwood, it dawns on her there are other, more desirable men. Her quest for contentment has just begun.

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