Sister Carrie | Study Guide

Theodore Dreiser

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Sister Carrie | Chapters 6–8 | Summary



The evening of her first day at work Carrie does not hide her disappointment from Hanson and Minnie. When asked, she says simply, "I don't like it." Remembering this was the evening Drouet might have come she goes downstairs to stand outside, but he does not visit. She goes to bed and gets up in the morning, the grind of her daily routine already becoming apparent.

Day after day Carrie goes to work, feeling more and more disgusted by the people she works with and upset by the fact the mere $0.50 she has left after paying her room and board each week is not enough to buy anything or spend on her own amusement. Finally, as winter arrives and Carrie does not have the warm clothes she needs or the money to buy them, Minnie agrees she can pay less to remedy the situation.

Even with a new hat to keep the freezing Chicago winds at bay, Carrie becomes ill and is in bed for several days with a fever, losing her job as a result. When she gets up and tries to find new work, she has little luck. On the fourth day of her hunt she runs into Drouet. Delighted to see her he takes her for a delicious hot meal in a fine restaurant. As he learns of her dilemma he says he will help her with money, clothes, and new lodging. Without resisting too much Carrie accepts $20 and agrees to meet him for a matinee the next day.

As Carrie walks back to the apartment in Chapter 7 she rationalizes her acceptance of Drouet's money. She thinks of him as a good man with no evil intentions. She trusts her instincts as she thinks with pleasure of the pretty clothes she will buy. On his end, Drouet feels satisfied at having helped her.

Minnie questions Carrie about her success in finding work, and Carrie lies about finding a possible job at a store. As the two sisters talk it becomes clear Hanson and Minnie do not want her with them if she cannot pay. It is apparent they expect her to return to Wisconsin if she remains out of work. It also becomes clear to Carrie she cannot buy new things with Drouet's money and have her sister see them because she cannot explain where she got the money. She decides she must give the money back.

As Carrie sets out to meet Drouet the next day she intends to look for work along the way, but instead cannot resist the urge to look at the clothes she might have been able to buy. When she meets up with Drouet he takes her for another good meal and spends the time dismissing her fears about taking the money, buying clothes, and being able to find work. After they purchase a jacket and shoes for her, he shows her a boarding house where she gets a room as his sister and leaves her things. All the while Drouet is lightly assuring her everything is just a loan, and he will help her find work. By the time Carrie goes home, Drouet has convinced her to accept his plan. He tells her to get the things she wants and meet him on the corner after dinner to return to the boarding house. Carrie's resolve is hardened as Minnie and Hanson both indicate her time with them is up, and she writes them a farewell note and leaves the apartment for good.

In Chapter 8 Minnie finds Carrie's note early the next morning and is obviously worried about where Carrie might have gone. Hanson's reply is gruff; "Now she has gone and done it." Minnie's worry does not ease immediately. Later in the chapter she has a nightmare about being with her sister at an old coal mine, where a basket descends into the mine. Carrie gets into the basket and goes down, despite Minnie's protest. Then the scene shifts to a strange watery place; the water takes Carrie away, leaving Minnie feeling "more inexpressibly sad than she had ever been in life."

Carrie has few moments of misgiving and sadness for having said goodbye to her old life and her family, but she mostly enjoys her days with Drouet. He continues to lavish her with new clothes, fine food, and fun entertainment. She soon begins to feel like a new person, a pretty person who has ascended far above her fellow machine girl she sees on the street one evening. Drouet continues to act like a gentleman, but his pursuit of her as a lover is clear. The chapter ends with his visiting Fitzgerald and Moy's and inviting Hurstwood to his home, where he clearly plans to have Carrie living before long—if, in fact, she is not already living there—and where he will want to show her off.


As Carrie leaves behind a life of drudgery and little hope for improvement, she quickly morphs into the kind of woman a man would want to show off to his friends. Because she already has a sense of herself as better than a "common" girl, she seems to move into the world of fashion and beauty and fun with a great deal of ease. She certainly could not be content with her sister's life, in which buying an umbrella is viewed as foolish and there should never be the need to go out and have fun. That's why Carrie is so drawn to Drouet; they are both greatly "affected by [shows] of finery and gayety." Clothing and appearance mean everything to them. She trusts him because he is familiar to her in his pursuits.

Although Minnie and Carrie are so obviously different, Minnie's dream reveals how much she cares for her younger sister. The water imagery of the dream fits Dreiser's literary use of water throughout the novel. It is always overpowering and fear-invoking, never soothing. In Minnie's dream, water has the force required to sweep her sister away forever.

In these chapters Dreiser is not shy about expressing his opinions about society. He explains the power of money, which he believes is so misunderstood, saying it should be "accepted as a moral due—that it should be paid out as honestly stored energy, and not as a usurped privilege." A famous sentence is found at the start of Chapter 8. "Our civilisation is still in a middle stage, scarcely beast, in that it is not yet wholly guided by instinct; scarcely human, in that it is no longer wholly guided by reason." This naturalistic view of mankind as unable to overcome whatever fate the universe deals is appropriate in these chapters in which Carrie seems to be swept along by a whole series of coincidental events, not just the power of money, that merge perfectly to seal her destiny.

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