Sister Carrie | Study Guide

Theodore Dreiser

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Sister Carrie | Chapters 40–41 | Summary

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Summary

The morning after Carrie stays out late with Lola and the two men without letting Hurstwood know, all pretenses between the couple of any sort of relationship between them is dropped. "I don't care," they both say. Carrie comes home less and less, and Hurstwood is increasingly uncomfortable asking for money. As a result the credit he runs up gets higher and higher, to the point the grocer, Oeslogge, calls at the apartment demanding money. Carrie is there and feels shocked and ashamed at the way Hurstwood deals with the situation.

Carrie and Lola decide they will not travel with the Casino show but find work in a different theater instead. Carrie now earns $20 per week and continues to spend it on whatever she wants, declaring to Hurstwood she "oughtn't to be made to pay for" the bills he has run up.

Hurstwood still spends most of his day reading papers, and he learns about a strike on the trolley lines in Brooklyn. When the company advertises for replacement workers, he determines he will try to get a job. Carrie is surprised and even a little sorry when she learns of his plans, and she glimpses "the old Hurstwood" in him. He does seem stronger and is certainly more purposeful than he has been in years as he makes his way through terrible weather to Brooklyn, visits the trolley company offices, and is sent to the foreman for training.

When Hurstwood arrives at the trolley barn in Chapter 41 he listens to the other men talking about the dangers of breaking the strike by becoming "scabs" (workers who replace the men out on strike) without commenting. He holds himself as above them in intelligence and class. "Poor devils," he thinks.

An instructor teaches Hurstwood how to operate the trolley. It is not as easy as he thought it would be. The first lesson lasts most of the morning, and then he waits for more opportunities to practice throughout the afternoon. By the time night approaches, Hurstwood realizes he must find food and a place to sleep. He asks a young scab for advice, and the lad tells him to go to the foreman to get a meal ticket and a bed. Hurstwood is told he can have a cot, but he decides to eat at a cheap restaurant rather than requesting a meal ticket.

After a cold, uncomfortable night, Hurstwood gets a meal ticket for breakfast and then reports to the barn to practice driving a trolley car. Since he has not been reading the newspapers the last couple of days, he does not know the strike has become quite violent. As he takes the car out of the barn two police officers enter to stand on either side of him. They give him directions about how to deal with the angry protesters, but the violence is unavoidable. The crowds want to disrupt the scabs, no matter what it takes. Hurstwood and the officers have to stop to clear the track of stones and then drive through a shower of rocks and stones being thrown at the car.

Hurstwood, "no coward in spirit," manages to make the run to downtown Brooklyn and back. He rests and then begins a second run. He is not dressed for the freezing weather, but his continued rush of adrenaline and determination keep him going. Finally, after several trips, a worker at the barn lends him a heavy cap and gloves.

During his second afternoon trip, Hurstwood runs into a large mob. Despite his police protection the mob drags him out of the car and kicks and beats him. He is rescued by the officers but feels faint and is alarmed he is bleeding. As they take him back to his car, he sees an ambulance has come to the scene. Shots are fired, one grazing his shoulder, and he decides he has had enough. Hurstwood walks through a snowstorm to the ferry, then makes his way to the apartment. Once he cleans himself up, gets warm, and has something to eat, Hurstwood settles into his rocking chair to read the news stories about the strike.

Analysis

Readers should understand how limited Carrie's small salary is against the lifestyle Hurstwood has maintained for them. Carrie does not seem to feel appreciative of what he has done, nor is she inclined to sacrifice her personal desires for the two of them. Dreiser's continued use of "indifference" when talking about her attitude emphasizes her coldness.

Carrie's horror at learning of the bills Hurstwood has run up and her questioning of the accuracy of the money owed provide the impetus that finally propels Hurstwood into action. He is furious she seems to think he has been "contracting some needless expense" while she herself has been buying fine clothes. Her insinuations bring his manhood into question, and he simply must take action or "he would be standing anything." Something of his pride and sense of honor has returned to him.

In a bit of situational irony, it is Hurstwood's addiction to news stories—something Carrie observes with scorn—that presents him with the trolley idea. He knows how tough the job market is. He has convinced himself he shouldn't even try to get a job. But the strike eliminates his excuse. There are plenty of open positions, and he feels sure the mail car trolleys will be heavily guarded. The news, then, is what leads him to his first job in a long time. However, when he is cut off from the news, he is unexpectedly in real danger. That the news has become his lifeline seems apparent; when he gets safely back home he finds comfort only in reading in the news about what he experienced.

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