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Sister Carrie | Symbols


Rocking Chair

Carrie resorts to rocking herself for comfort on her first night in Chicago. She continues to sit and rock, sometimes thinking and sometimes just staring out at the world, throughout the novel. For her, it is always a soothing act, even though she never seems to progress in her thinking, instead remaining a woman full of longing, no matter her circumstances. The rocking chair is a perfect symbol for Carrie's emotional or psychological state; it involves motion but no forward progress. "In your rocking chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel." Hurstwood, too, begins to rock regularly once he loses his confidence and begins his downward spiral. Like Carrie, he finds comfort in the act of rocking while never making any progress out of his decline.


For the most part, newspapers tell stories of past events. As such, they represent a world of "has beens" in a society that is focused on the future. Early in the novel, Hurstwood dreads what he will read in the papers about his thievery. Later, however, he finds comfort in them. He lives in the past, a time when he had his glory days. When he doesn't read the news, such as his time during the trolley strike, he is out of touch with the world.

Newspapers do offer some promise for the future—in the form of advertisements for work, for example—but those promises require action on the part of readers. So the act of sitting and reading the newspaper also becomes symbolic of a passive approach to life.

Clothing and Mirrors

Many descriptions in the novel are of clothing. Whether shabby or luxurious, the narrator draws attention to it. Clothing symbolizes the importance of physical appearance in the status-oriented world that Carrie and the others inhabit; "Fine clothes to [Carrie] were a vast persuasion; they spoke tenderly ... When she came within earshot of their pleading, desire in her bent a willing ear." However, how people view themselves is just as important as how others perceive them. Thus, mirrors or characters who act as mirrors also appear throughout the novel; "Drouet had a habit, characteristic of his kind, of looking after stylishly dressed or pretty women on the street and remarking on them." Outer appearances reign supreme in a world that equates a person's self-worth with his or her looks and adornments.

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