Sister Carrie | Study Guide

Theodore Dreiser

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Sister Carrie | Chapters 12–15 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 12 opens back at the Hurstwood home on the day after Hurstwood's trip to the theater with Carrie and Drouet. It turns out his son was also there, and George, Jr. mentions this fact to his father, saying he had seen him. Julia immediately pounces on the information, asking for further details, and she adds it to her growing sense of unease and jealousy about Hurstwood's use of time when he is not at home.

Meanwhile, Carrie's unhappiness and discontent grow following an outing with Mrs. Hale in a buggy, when they see the great mansions and wealth of Chicago up close. As she rocks in a disconsolate mood one day, Hurstwood comes to call on her. He cheers her up in a more significant way than Drouet ever does, and he kindly lets her know he can see her unhappiness. The chemistry between the two of them continues to ratchet up.

Two days later, in Chapter 13, Hurstwood calls on Carrie again, unable to stop thinking about her. They decide to go for a stroll, and then Hurstwood hires a horse and buggy to drive them out to the west side of the city. As they go along, Hurstwood proceeds to tell Carrie he loves her. He claims he is alone and full of worry and displeasure with his life. He states her love is what can make him content. By the end of his romantic outburst he sees in her eyes he has won her love and joyously declares, "You're my own girl."

Both Mrs. Hale and the housemaid notice Carrie has gone off with another man in Drouet's absence, but Carrie's conscience seems remarkably clear, "no longer troubled about her attitude towards him." She believes he might even be "a drag in the direction of honour," away from her compromised lifestyle with Drouet. Hurstwood feels light about the relationship as well, not seeing it should complicate his life in any way.

When the couple dines out a few nights later Hurstwood sees Carrie is not to be his for the taking so fast. They agree to communicate via letters.

The next day Drouet arrives home from a business trip, stopping in to see Hurstwood before going to the apartment. When he does get home to Carrie he gives a positive report of his business dealings and mentions getting married. Carrie replies she knows it will never happen. Hurstwood as a viable option is growing in her mind, and she is a bit startled when Drouet mentions seeing him. But Drouet does not seem to care Hurstwood has visited Carrie, and in a few days the threesome once again attends the theater.

Chapter 15 highlights the growing tension at Hurstwood's home as he turns his attention more frequently to Carrie. He and Julia argue over their expenditures. She demands season tickets to the horse races where she wants to be seen and so improve her social standing. He begins to feel more distant from his family, nothing more than the bill payer who has lost the familiarity of his children and the respect of his wife. These feelings fuel his desire to be with Carrie as much as possible. He writes her flowery love letters daily and finally arranges for her to meet him at a park.

As Hurstwood continues to feed his fantasy by asking Carrie to leave Drouet, he seems shocked when she makes it clear she thinks Hurstwood will marry her. But he soon embraces the idea—indulging his fantasy—and suggests one day soon he might come for her, to carry her away from Chicago and marry her. She agrees and reinforces the fact they must get married "as soon as [they get] to the other end of the journey." Hurstwood is not serious in this proposition, but he is thrilled she has confirmed her love for him by agreeing to the plan.

Analysis

In these chapters the conditions for a perfect storm of complications continue to brew. Julia's suspicions escalate steadily, and are described beautifully by Dreiser. "Her wrath would never wreak itself in one fell blow. She would wait and brood, studying the details and adding to them until her power might be commensurate with her desire for revenge." In contrast Drouet continues to be blind to the fact Hurstwood is making a move on Carrie, which will elicit much sympathy from the reader when Drouet discovers Carrie's betrayal.

Carrie's discontent mounts until she is led to tell Mrs. Hale, "No one is ever happy," and she retreats to "rock and sing" in her chair. In contrast Hurstwood thrives upon discovering Carrie, who makes him feel "fascinated and elated," as though he's "a youth again in feeling." Such romantic feelings and his passionate avowal of his love for her draw Carrie to him like a magnet, away from her dissatisfaction toward a proper life of marriage and clear commitment with a man she clearly views as superior to Drouet. Unfortunately her hopes about Hurstwood are based on a giant untruth. She thinks he is single. Hurstwood is so caught up in the secret world he has created with her he spins a tale of their future to please her, all the while not truly believing it will be necessary to live it in order to win his goal of her as his lover.

Chapter 15 is full of dramatic irony not yet known to readers. Hurstwood's fantasy plan to take Carrie away and marry her will be forced upon him soon. Her repeated demands about the necessity of marriage will appear to be met, but in reality are not.

There are also keen moments of foreshadowing in these chapters. Dreiser makes a small but significant statement in Chapter 13 in reference to Hurstwood; "Carrie was certainly better than this man, as she was superior, mentally, to Drouet." At the end of Chapter 14, when Drouet, Hurstwood, and Carrie exit the theater, a beggar approaches and asks for money. Drouet, ever generous, feels pity and gives the man a dime, enough for something to eat. Hurstwood doesn't even notice the beggar. Carrie fails to register what is happening.

Years later the characters' reactions to this homeless person will be recalled; Drouet was always good-natured and never changes in his character, the one constant personality in the novel. Hurstwood slips farther and father down, himself becoming the invisible beggar. And Carrie continues to refuse to let such unhappy images enter her mind, caught up in her own endless pursuit of happiness.

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