Sister Carrie | Study Guide

Theodore Dreiser

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Sister Carrie | Chapters 42–44 | Summary

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Summary

Hurstwood never describes his experience in Brooklyn to Carrie, and so she decides he simply "did not want to work." She, on the other hand, loves her work as she suddenly begins a rapid ascent to stardom. It begins with a single line she decides to say outside the script of her latest chorus role. The star sees she elicits laughter with the line, and he deigns to allow her to keep it in. Having been noticed, Carrie is then offered the minor role of a departing actress, and her weekly pay jumps to $35. She remains determined to use the money she makes to buy clothes, justifying she needs them for her new role, even though she and Hurstwood will fall short of paying the rent again.

Lola Osborne finds a nice apartment with rent for $6 per week and asks Carrie to be her roommate. The idea begins to appeal to Carrie as she feels more and more trapped with Hurstwood. When he proposes they move to a cheaper, smaller apartment, she makes up her mind and things move quickly. She accepts Lola's invitation to become her roommate and lays her plans to escape from Hurstwood in two days. She borrows $25 from Lola, leaving Hurstwood 20 of it, packs her things while he is out of the apartment, and leaves. Her farewell note explains she can't support them and pay for her clothes. Hurstwood is not entirely surprised, but he is filled with "bereaved affection and self-pity."

Carrie has no trouble leaving Hurstwood completely behind in Chapter 43. She rarely thinks of him and becomes completely absorbed in her career. She is thrilled to be written up as "one of the cleverest members of the chorus" in her small role, enjoys her new apartment and frequent outings with Lola, and delights in spending her salary however she wishes. Soon, however, her familiar discontent begins; "The world of wealth and distinction was quite as far away as ever."

When their current show is set to go on the road, Lola and Carrie seek positions at the Casino again. Because she has had a speaking role and notices and pictures published in the papers, the manager gives Carrie $30 per week for a nonspeaking role. Although she does not know it the part is in jeopardy of being cut, but when the manager notices a particular facial expression of Carrie's, he tells her to add this unique scowling demeanor to her pose. The audience loves it, so much so the star of the show feels threatened and wants her to stop. Instead, the manager encourages her, and she is soon locked in to the show for a year, earning $150 per week.

Hurstwood, now living in a third-rate hotel, reads about Carrie's success, but he vows to leave her alone. As Dreiser says, "It was the grim resolution of a bent, bedraggled, but unbroken pride."

In Chapter 44 Carrie begins to enjoy all the perks of stardom. Mr. Withers, the manager of the swanky new Wellington Hotel, offers her and Lola beautiful rooms to live in, explaining Carrie's presence there will draw patrons. Mrs. Vance calls on her backstage, and Carrie receives nightly notes from gentleman admirers. When she receives her first $150, she recalls her days of poverty in Chicago and feels thrilled, finding the world "rosy and bright."

But even with all this, soon again Carrie feels dissatisfied. She is lonely and feels idle. Lola says it is because she holds herself apart and won't seek enjoyment.

Analysis

By the time Carrie gets her first $150, she already has everything she ever thought she wanted. She is living in a fine set of rooms with a good friend. She has clothes that are "wholly satisfactory." She can go out to eat or do whatever else she wants for entertainment. So how can she even spend the money? As Dreiser says, she is beginning to see the "impotence" of money. She has so much of it she must put it in the bank for safekeeping.

For Carrie, "The door to life's perfect enjoyment was not open." The title of Chapter 44 hints at the hollowness of her life, her constant seeking, which is "What Gold Will Not Buy." This is in stark contrast to Hurstwood who sees where she is as inside the "walled city" he once enjoyed. "Its splendid gates had opened, admitting her from a cold, dreary outside."

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