Sister Carrie | Study Guide

Theodore Dreiser

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Sister Carrie | Chapters 30–31 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 30 opens with a bleak pronouncement. In the huge metropolis of New York City, "Hurstwood was nothing." He is "cut off from his friends, despoiled of his modest fortune, and even his name," and is now "forced to begin the battle for place and comfort all over again." He starts by finding a suitable flat, pleasing to Carrie for its modern appointments and decent view, and buying furnishings on installment. He then turns his attention to finding a business venture.

For a thousand dollars he purchases a one-third share and managerial rights in a decent saloon on Warren Street. Hurstwood is initially elated, feeling sure he can reap the 150 dollars in profit a month he needs to live decently. However, various aspects of the business prove disappointing, including his inability to get the amount he wants from it. Although he tries not to, he thinks constantly of what he has lost. When he encounters someone from his past life in Chicago, he feels terrible.

Carrie, too, becomes uneasy at what she sees as a very changed Hurstwood. He is no longer "liberal, opulent," but instead preoccupied and rather gloomy. She seems the dutiful housewife but does not like feeling her husband is keeping secrets from her.

As troubling as Chapter 30 is, Chapter 31 begins in a hopeful way. Carrie is delighted with her apartment and its furnishings and fascinated with the great scope of New York City. Hurstwood continues to delight in her presence and feels proud of her household tactics, including her management of their servant. By the second year he is making the amount of money he had originally targeted. The couple has settled into a comfortable, if perhaps mundane, routine.

Then subtle changes occur. Although Carrie has no way of making friends, Hurstwood has picked up some acquaintances with whom he occasionally chooses to stay out with rather than coming home for dinner. He also begins to buy himself new clothes instead of continuing to put Carrie first. Over time he becomes convinced she is a happy housewife who has no desire to be entertained out on the town. He is to learn that he is sadly mistaken.

When the Vances move into the building, Carrie finally has the chance to make a friend and go out on the town herself. Mrs. Vance is very well dressed and interested in society. She causes Carrie to see just how stale her life has become. As she and her new friend join the parade down on Broadway one day, Carrie resolves to one day fit in and be equal to the finely dressed, proud men and women of fashion.

Analysis

Even though the circumstances of Hurstwood and Carrie have changed profoundly, their basic natures cannot. Before long both are falling back into familiar patterns. Hurstwood once again views himself as the man in charge whose wife is content keeping a fine home and being there whenever he decides to arrive. Carrie feels the old "urging melancholy" toward something better, especially when it comes to appearances. She thinks frequently about clothing, as she always has, noticing with a great deal of uneasiness in the beginning when Hurstwood does not refresh his wardrobe and asks her to delay her own clothing purchases. When she meets Mrs. Vance, she jealously compares their two wardrobes and finds her own sadly lacking.

Here Dreiser takes time to elaborate on the American Dream and its materialism and where the "gnawing, luring, idle phantoms" ultimately lead, which is to "death and dissolution." He compares the American Dream to an "opium ... a craving ... which, if gratified, shall eternally result in dreams and death."

The other important fact clearly revealed by these chapters is that Carrie simply is not in love with Hurstwood. She is content to live with him, especially since now she is "somewhat justified in the eyes of society," but her contentment is beginning to erode. Her lack of true passion for Hurstwood has been hinted at before, but here Dreiser states it. "Not loving him greatly, she could not be jealous in a disturbing way. In fact, she was not jealous at all." When her longing to be happy returns again in force, there will be little to hold her to him.

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