Sister Carrie | Study Guide

Theodore Dreiser

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Sister Carrie | Chapters 22–25 | Summary

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Summary

The jealousy running through Hurstwood and Drouet is about to infect another person—Julia. Dreiser opens Chapter 22 with a warning of it. "The misfortune of the Hurstwood household was due to the fact that jealousy, having been born of love, did not perish with it." Julia is in a foul mood after her argument with Hurstwood, and she takes it out on Jessica before commencing to figure out the source of the change in her husband's demeanor. She recalls a recent encounter with a friend who accused her of not waving while out in a carriage with her husband. At the time she dismisses it. But now she begins to believe Hurstwood has been stepping out on her. Then later that day, at the races with Jessica, Julia learns Hurstwood attended a play the previous evening and told their friends she did not attend because she was ill.

By the time Hurstwood arrives home in the evening, Julia has convinced herself he is cheating on her. She is ready to pounce when he tries to smooth over their morning argument with his assurance she can go ahead on their vacation without him. "So you can stay here and trifle around with some one else?" she responds. Then she lays all of her suspicions at his feet. When his response is weak, she knows she is right. At that point Julia demands the vacation money and tells him, "I'm through with you entirely." He makes a valiant attempt to gain the upper hand, but already knows he will lose. "I'll have nothing more to do with you," he says upon leaving.

In Chapter 23 Carrie arrives home after her tryst with Hurstwood; she begins to doubt her decision to go away with him. As is her usual habit she sits in her rocking chair to think, and that is where Drouet finds her. Still inflamed with jealousy about all of her meetings with Hurstwood, he clumsily questions her about it. As they both dance around the topic, Drouet blurts out she should not be going around with a married man. Carrie cannot hide her shock, and by her response Drouet knows she has been unfaithful, if not physically at least with her affections.

Carrie's dismay at the news she has just heard quickly turns to anger, and she lashes out at Drouet, who is flummoxed by her attack on him when she is the one who has cheated. As the fight escalates each of them threatens to leave. Ultimately, however, Drouet calms down and declares he will leave and she can have until the end of the month to figure out what she really wants to do. As he packs up his things to go he suggests she try to find work in the theater and promises to help her. He keeps trying to get her to tell him whether or not she truly cares for Hurstwood, but Carrie refuses. She maintains it is Drouet's fault for having set her up with Hurstwood while hiding the bar manager's marital status. After giving her several chances to reverse the course of their argument, Drouet finally leaves in disgust, declaring, "I'm no sucker."

Hurstwood gets a room at the Palmer House downtown in Chapter 24 while Julia determines he will pay dearly. She decides to hire a lawyer and a detective and make sure she gets everything coming to her. Hurstwood miserably recalls he has put all of their property in her name and frets much of the night over the possible ramifications of this turn of events on his employment.

The next morning he is relieved he does not yet have any papers from his wife or a lawyer but filled with despair when Carrie does not meet him at the park as planned. By afternoon, however, Julia strikes. She sends a letter demanding the money for the vacation immediately. When he does not respond she sends a second letter, threatening to go to his employers in the morning. Hurstwood takes a cab to his house to try to get a handle on the situation. He finds he has been locked out. No one responds to his urgent knocks at the door.

Having returned to his office at Fitzgerald and Moy's, Hurstwood finally decides to send the money to Julia through a messenger boy. After making the delivery, Harry reports back she said, "It was high time."

The next day passes with Hurstwood receiving no further correspondence from his wife. This continues through the weekend, accompanied by utter silence from Carrie. On Monday he receives an official letter from an attorney's office, which he reads but does not act on. By Wednesday he still has not heard from Carrie, and a second letter arrives from the attorneys, this one announcing Julia's intention to sue him for divorce and alimony.

Analysis

With Carrie and Hurstwood both at odds with their partners, their current ways of life are at risk. The wheels are set in motion in these chapters for them to come together, having no apparent ability to return to how things once were. However, Carrie's silence toward Hurstwood, and Drouet's original willingness to "Let it go," do offer some hope that she, at least, could survive this indiscretion. In contrast, Julia will never give Hurstwood another chance. As Dreiser describes her, she is "a pythoness" bent on revenge and 100 percent indifferent to him except as the one who must pay.

Dreiser once again employs water imagery to show just how dire Hurstwood's predicament is. As he realizes near the end of Chapter 22 that he is likely to lose everything to his wife, he is described as "a vessel, powerful and dangerous, but rolling and floundering without sail." Then in Chapter 24, when Hurstwood is working himself up to go to his house and confront Julia, a rainstorm begins. "The street looked like a sea of round black cloth roofs, twisting, bobbing, moving ... everywhere men were shielding themselves as best they could." He is at sea, and the world outside his office has changed.

Modern readers will find much stereotyping of women in Chapter 23, in the text where Dreiser tries to explain Carrie's mixed feelings toward Hurstwood. He says, among other things, women crave love and affection and long "to be shielded, bettered, sympathised with." Drouet also stereotypes as he accuses Carrie, "Use everything and abuse me and then walk off. That's just like a woman." In Chapter 24 Hurstwood feeds the vision of Carrie as a flat character; "He saw only her pretty face and neat figure." The object of these descriptions is not just stereotyping, however; it is Dreiser's way of indicating Carrie simply is not a normal woman of the times, even if the male characters lash out from stereotypical perceptions. Also, Carrie feels Drouet has turned her into a plaything, and she shows strength when she tries to force him to share some of the blame; she is able to shed light on a subtle truth, unprovable as it may be.

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