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Sister Carrie | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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In Sister Carrie what is the significance of Hurstwood's attitude when Carrie first looks for acting jobs in New York?

Carrie's search for an acting job is quite grueling, yet Hurstwood does not seem to have much empathy around it. Since he has not been able to put himself through a job search grind, he is unable to view what she is doing as difficult without experiencing shame. He thinks of her earnest daily efforts as "not ... so terrible." She can rest each evening, and tomorrow will come. This is how he now approaches the world, rocking in his chair and thinking time will pass and some day he will find work. He even manages to leave the apartment once during her search to try to find a job as a bartender, but his pattern is the same as always; "One or two slight rebuffs, and the bravado disappeared." He does not have Carrie's strength or resilience, and he also seems to lack the feeling of desperation that drives her to keep trying.

In Sister Carrie, although Hurstwood has supported Carrie for years, why does he have to ask her to "help him out" when all of his money is gone?

By the time Hurstwood has run out of money, there is no semblance of a marital relationship between Carrie and him. They are nothing more than roommates, and the normal expectation for roommates is they should each contribute to the cost of room and board. This assumption was made clear to Carrie from the beginning of the novel, when her own sister could not support her unless Carrie paid money to live with her and her husband. It's even more clear in the society of the time that a man should not rely on a woman for his livelihood. This is why Hurstwood must keep up the pretense he will one day pay Carrie back for any money she spends as the sole source of income for the household.

Given that Dreiser describes Lola Osborne in Sister Carrie as a "Manon"—a reference to an opera character who is a man-crazy young woman—are she and Carrie more alike or different?

Carrie and Lola Osborne are much more different than they are alike. Lola loves to flirt and go out with young men. She is always lighthearted and in search of merriment in the company of attentive and good-looking guys. In contrast, Carrie is much more mature and appears standoffish and disinterested in the frivolities of flirting and dating. Boys her age are immature to her, since she has lived the life of a wife for several years already with an older man. She also finds it hard to relax and enjoy herself for any extended period of time since she has many serious problems to deal with, including struggling just to get by financially when she and Lola first meet. Although Lola is the experienced one when it comes to the theater world and offers Carrie invaluable advice, Carrie is much more experienced in the ways of the world and jaded by the relationships she has had.

In Sister Carrie how does Carrie's attitude in the shoe factory toward other workers compare or contrast with Hurstwood's attitude toward other workers during the trolley strike?

Carrie and Hurstwood both think of themselves as superior to the workers in the same jobs they hold. This is despite the fact that at the times she is a factory worker and he is a "scab" neither of them is any better off than those they judge harshly. Carrie finds the other machine girls silly and "common" and is repulsed in general by what she sees as "hard and low about it all." Similarly, Hurstwood thinks of the other trolley workers as "poor devils," finding himself "a little better off" than they. One of the saddest aspects of the snobbery Carrie and Hurstwood show toward their fellow workers is that the other workers are helpful to them as they learn how to get by in the harsh world of low paying jobs. The girl beside Carrie on the line is kind to her as she learns what to do. Hurstwood is only able to find a place to sleep and food because a young scab offers advice.

In Sister Carrie how do Carrie's early experiences with men make her generally more alluring?

Because of Carrie's experiences with Drouet and Hurstwood, she is much more sophisticated than the young women of her age who have never married. She is also uninterested in pursuing any sort of romantic relationships. She has already had such experiences and been disappointed by the selfishness of men and the unraveling of passion; "So much for the lessons of Hurstwood and Drouet." However, men find her attractive and can sense that she is a woman of the world. One of her suitors is described as having increased "respect and ardour" for her because he senses she is not inexperienced. But Carrie is unmoved by any man's advances, even wondering why she was ever idealistic about Mr. Ames. Her coolness and indifference only lead men to want her more and even increase her popularity as "an interesting figure in the public eye."

In Sister Carrie what is significant about the fact Carrie reaches stardom in a nonspeaking role?

Throughout the novel Carrie has caught people's attention because of her looks. She stands apart not because of her intelligence, beliefs, or other personality traits, but because she is uniquely pretty. So it makes sense what ultimately makes her a star is a certain look rather than the excellent delivery of dramatic lines. Although Carrie is upset by one positive critic's comment that "She was merely pretty, good-natured, and lucky," this is the truth about her. Carrie need not protest since she herself is similarly drawn to people not because of their personalities but because she loves their physical appearances and the way they dress.

What is the significance of three chapter titles (19, 38, and 44) in Sister Carrie referring to "Elf Land"?

The chapter title references to "Elf Land" are referring to the magical and unreal world of the theater, with all of its magic made possible by the escape from reality drama represents. Carrie's first acting experience in the Elks play in which she becomes the amateur star is indeed a magical experience for her. When she first enters the theater world of New York City, she again feels the magic of a life she has always dreamed of. In a case of situational irony—where the unexpected happens—when Carrie achieves sure stardom in that world, she grows dissatisfied with it and the magic disappears. Her ever-present sense of longing returns so that the "door to life's perfect enjoyment was not open."

Although Carrie's physical appearance is never described in detail in Sister Carrie, based on Mr. Ames's comments about her in Chapter 46, what picture can be painted of her?

As Mr. Ames sees her, Carrie is a classical beauty. Her eyes are large and lovely, and her face is capable of showing a range of emotions. Mr. Ames specifically calls out her ability to show sympathy, suffering and pain, sadness, and longing. He comments upon the depth he senses behind her eyes. By watching her face, he feels, audiences can feel in their hearts an overwhelming desire. So she must be truly gorgeous, with constantly changing facial expressions. Mr. Ames does not comment on her body, but readers have learned from other passing comments that it is very pleasing to observers, as well.

In what ways might feminists applaud or condemn Dreiser's treatment of morality in Sister Carrie?

Many readers, and even the original publisher of Sister Carrie, found the novel immoral. Never had a female character been so obviously rewarded for making the choice to "live in sin." Dreiser takes the typical plot line of a fallen woman facing a horrible life as punishment for her sins and, in fact, turns it inside out. Carrie goes on to leave behind and outshine the very men who make a "dishonest woman" out of her. Feminists might be pleased Carrie takes advantage of these richer—and therefore more powerful—men who desire her and claim her as their own in contrast to the typical pattern of a man using a woman and then discarding her when he grow weary of the affair. In contrast, feminists may not be happy that Carrie remains totally dependent on the world of man even if standing apart from those who would use her. As a character, she remains defined throughout the novel only through her relationships with men.

How important to the novel is this sentence in Chapter 12 of Sister Carrie: "People in general attach too much importance to words"?

Throughout Sister Carrie the main characters frequently fall silent because they simply cannot find the words to say what they are thinking. Carrie and Hurstwood both frequently turn to long, silent periods of rocking in a chair when they are trying to sort out their feelings. Words also fail the characters when it comes to their relationships. As Dreiser further expands on that sentence in Chapter 12, "[Words] but dimly represent the great surging feelings and desires which lie behind." The inner worlds of Carrie, Hurstwood, and Drouet cannot be expressed adequately. This is one reason that Dreiser adds so much commentary to important exchanges between the characters. He wants the sentiment to be felt and understood by readers, but he is showing how it can only be accomplished outside of their conversations with one another.

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