Sister Carrie | Study Guide

Theodore Dreiser

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Sister Carrie | Chapters 20–21 | Summary



Chapter 20 finds both Hurstwood and Drouet out of sorts on the morning after the play. Hurstwood is caught up in thinking of how to get rid of Drouet. He is interrupted in his musings by the demands of Julia, regarding their vacation. She arouses his temper by complaining about the races, for which she bought season tickets, and saying if he will not go on vacation the family will go without him. He snaps at her to the point she begins to think of him as "a brute."

When Drouet states to Carrie his intention to marry her, he senses her usual disbelief has assumed an air of indifference, which troubles him. When he returns to the apartment soon after leaving for work and finds her gone, he learns from the chambermaid of Hurstwood's numerous visits to Carrie in his absence, including visits during the evenings. His jealousy sparks nearly as much as Hurstwood's. Carrie, mostly just floating on a cloud of happiness associated with her acting success, is on her way to meet Hurstwood at the park, eager to hear his praise.

In Chapter 21 Carrie and Hurstwood's meeting is rather awkward at first, fueled by Hurstwood's overwhelming need to have her leave Drouet. His pleas only make her feel more confused. Finally, as he presses her and promises he will marry her immediately if she will come with him on Saturday, she agrees. At this point she feels certain she loves him, and they will be happy together. They agree to meet the next day to solidify their plans.


It truly seems Carrie, at this point, has gained the upper hand in every way. Two men want her; both are driven to jealousy by their desire for her. Although she has some inner turmoil about betraying Drouet, her concern seems to be more about being legitimately married. Her focus, as Dreiser says from the beginning, is on what is best for her own self-interest.

The ultimate ease with which Hurstwood is able to get Carrie to agree to come away with him is reminiscent of the ease Drouet had in getting her to become his mistress. Readers see by now what drives Carrie most is improving her lot in life. Her excitement at the lure of better things might be disguised as love. However, what she loves is being adored by people who willingly offer her the trappings of the lifestyle she desires—with the hope she might someday find contentment.

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