Sister Carrie | Study Guide

Theodore Dreiser

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Sister Carrie | Chapters 37–39 | Summary



Titled "The Spirit Awakens: New Search for the Gate," Chapter 37 opens with Hurstwood's revelation to Carrie that the couple is down to their last $100. In response to her pleas that he seek work, he is apathetic. Carrie finally wakes up to the fact she will have to bring in money somehow. Her mind turns to the one option she has kept in the back of her mind. "Frequently she had considered the stage as a door through which she might enter that gilded state which she had so much craved."

Initially Hurstwood discourages her from acting, saying it is difficult and "not much of a profession for a woman." However, before too long he decides it isn't such a bad idea after all and even helps her find the addresses of three dramatic agents. Carrie goes straightaway to their offices, but no one is interested in her because of her lack of experience. The third agent tries to get her to pay him $50 to find her a position, but Carrie sees through this scam.

The next day, in Chapter 38, Carrie shifts her search to visiting actual theaters to ask about getting a position as a chorus line girl. She continues making the rounds for several days, seeing only one manager—at the Casino—who tells her to return at the beginning of the next week. When she does, he takes note of her prettiness and tells her to return again the following morning to begin rehearsing. She and Hurstwood both feel relieved she will have work, even though the pay is only $12 per week.

When Carrie reports for rehearsal she uses the stage name Drouet had given her, Carrie Madenda. She finds the manager to be exacting but is excited by the work and determined to make it into the show. Although tired, she practices her dance moves when she gets home and decides she will no longer keep house since she is now working outside of the home.

Before long Carrie realizes the work is hard and she is "absolutely nothing at all." She resents the fact Hurstwood now relies on her completely, and she must hand over all of the money she makes. Although he says, "I'll pay you back all right," she sees he is not seeking employment.

In Chapter 39 Carrie's dissatisfaction with her living situation escalates, fed by her "need of clothes—to say nothing of her desire for ornaments." A reversal occurs; where she used to ask Hurstwood for money, he now asks her. Just as she was always in the dark as to how much money he actually had, now he is unaware. This means Carrie can begin to buy only for herself the things she wants, such as shoes, but because she does this they are left short of rent money. As a solution, Hurstwood begins to buy their groceries on credit.

Carrie makes friends with a fellow chorus girl, Lola Osborne. They begin to do things together, so Carrie is home less and less. Hurstwood notices but does nothing about it, "content to droop supinely while Carrie drifted out of his life."

At work Carrie's fine looks and way of carrying herself bring her to the manager's attention, and he tells the ballet-master to put her at the head of the line. With that move comes an increase in her pay to $18 per week, a fact she hides from Hurstwood, so she can continue to buy clothes for herself. Before long Hurstwood has to speak to her about the amount of debt they are in. Their exchange is stressful, but Carrie ends up feeling ashamed and tries to do better by him.

Carrie's changed attitude is short-lived. One day she agrees to go out with Lola Osborne and two young men. They have a very fun evening, ending up at a fancy restaurant that reminds Carrie of her evening with Mr. Ames, whom she still thinks of as an ideal man. While she's enjoying herself, Hurstwood is at home waiting for her and realizing, "She's getting a start now. I'm out of it."


These chapters represent a complete shift in how Hurstwood and Carrie have lived. Carrie becomes the wage earner while Hurstwood manages the household. Because she has been able to find a theater job in a matter of days, her respect for Hurstwood hits a new low. She is irritated with him in general and wishes "more and more that Hurstwood was not in the way."

The secrecy with which their relationship began continues, but now the secrets are about money, not matters of the heart. Hurstwood claims he is broke when he actually has $10 left. Carrie hides money from him and does not reveal her salary increase. She also keeps information from him about where she is and what she is doing when away from the apartment.

Carrie is also secretive with others about her situation. She prefers for her coworkers to think she lives with relatives. Hurstwood has already ceased to exist as anyone significant in her life, being viewed by her instead as a burden, someone to be ashamed of.

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