Sister Carrie | Study Guide

Theodore Dreiser

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Sister Carrie | Chapters 45–47 | Summary

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Summary

Hurstwood continues to downgrade his existence, occupying cheaper and cheaper rooms as he tries to make it on $70—all the money he has to his name, gotten from the sale of the apartment furniture. Soon he is in the Bowery, the poorest part of the city, with only $20 left. He follows Carrie in the newspapers and grows increasingly prone to vivid fantasies, almost hallucinations, of his glory years in Chicago.

When he is finally down to his last $0.20 Hurstwood takes action. He goes to the Broadway Central Hotel, approaches the porter, and begs for a job. The porter sends him inside to talk to the manager, and Hurstwood chooses to speak to the man as a peer, a former manager himself. Intrigued by his story of hard luck, the manager decides to take him on as an all-around helper, allowing him to sleep in the attic, eat free, and earn a few dollars a week.

In the winter Hurstwood becomes quite ill with pneumonia, and the hotel has no choice but to send him to Bellevue, the charity hospital of Manhattan, where he stays until May. Hurstwood then lands back in the Bowery and takes to begging in order to feed himself and pay for a room. When he learns Carrie has returned to the Casino after a time traveling with the show he decides he will ask her for help. He goes to the theater but is not able to catch sight of her. That night for the first time he joins the homeless men who are aided each evening by a religious zealot known as "the captain." This individual lines the men up and asks passersby for donations of $0.12 per man to pay for a bed. When he has enough money for every man—on this night there are 137—he marches them to a lodging house. In the "small, lightless chamber" he is given that night, Hurstwood feels the agony of starvation and says, "I can't stand much of this."

In Chapter 46 Carrie is surprised by a visitor to her dressing room. It is Drouet, who is now living and working in New York City. He invites Carrie to dinner. She declines, but invites him to visit her at the Waldorf at 3:00 p.m. the next day. When he arrives the two catch up on the events of the past years. When Drouet inquires about Hurstwood, Carrie admits she has lost touch with him. Following a passing remark about the mistake Hurstwood made, Drouet finally reveals what Carrie never knew—the theft of $10,000. This news makes her feel "a kind of sorrow" for what he had endured without her knowledge. Drouet and Carrie have dinner and although it seems he would like to try to pick up things with her where they left off, she makes it clear she is not interested.

The next night Carrie is startled when Hurstwood himself approaches her and asks for money. She gives him everything in her purse—nine dollars—but keeps asking him, "What's the matter with you?" He resents the question and determines not to ask her for help again.

Carrie's show moves for a season to London. When she returns to the city she begins a role in a new play. Mr. Ames, who has moved back to the city, goes to the play with Mrs. Vance. He does not think it is the best role for her, saying she would do better in a more dramatic play. When he and Carrie meet by chance one day at the Vance apartment, they listen to music together, and he states she should try doing more serious roles. Thrilled at being taken seriously by the man she has long held as an ideal, she continues to enjoy similar conversations with him at future meetings. Mr. Ames presses her to respond to the "burden of duty" the gift of her looks and voice give her. It makes Carrie feel as though her comedy success is no success at all. However, she takes no action to follow Mr. Ames's advice.

Hurstwood continues to rely on charities in Chapter 47, the mechanisms of which are described in close detail by Dreiser. He is now viewed as "a chronic type of bum and beggar" and finds it hard to "get anything from anybody."

One day in the cold winter he finds no one willing to give him enough to eat. On his last try, the response he gets is, "You're no good." Hurstwood weeps and agrees he is no good, deciding the only thing left is death. He recalls a room that would work for suicide because it can be tightly closed and has a gas jet. However, he does not have the $0.15 to pay for it. Begging for the money, he is given a quarter, and "the idea of death passed." On another freezing night he becomes desperate enough to try to approach Carrie for food but is thrown aside at the theater's stage door.

Finally, as the novel draws to a close, Dreiser paints the picture of a cold winter night in four very different scenarios. Carrie and Lola are enjoying their warm, luxurious suite at the Waldorf. Drouet is looking forward to a date with a pretty young woman. Julia Hurstwood is riding in a fancy Pullman car with her beautiful, grown daughter, Jessica, and rich son-in-law, about to set sail for Rome. And Hurstwood is lying down for the last time, in the room with the gas jet where he will take his own life in desperation.

Analysis

What is most shocking about these final chapters of the book is not the events that are revealed. It is the fact it seems so inevitable. Because of Dreiser's masterful job of characterization, readers feel they know the characters and have a deep understanding of what motivates them. Hurstwood simply cannot survive as a bum. Carrie does not seem to know what she longs for. Julia has succeeded in getting what she wants, even though she has raised a "supercilious beauty." Lighthearted Drouet remains happy to have a shallow life pursuing pleasure, while serious Mr. Ames continues to focus on moral duties.

The final paragraphs sum up Dreiser's deep philosophizing. Carrie will never be happy. She is destined to always long and dream for something more, going nowhere with her endless rocking. The alluring "tinsel and shine" of the city does not lead to happiness, not for her and not for anyone. Each person has a place in the scheme of the life that has been shown and cannot evade that place.

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