Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

It’s funny to me how you get ideas in your head based upon titles of well-known books. I know Dave has also made this observation. Sister Carrie always made me think of a nun, or some Puritan type if not a nun. That’s so not what this story is, though Sister Carrie does give the impression of someone good-hearted. That is about the only thing that remained the same about my perception of this book after reading it.

The following authors listed Sister Carrie among their top tens: Wally Lamb, Tom Perrotta, and Tom Wolfe.

I’ll list my points about Sister Carrie numerically. Apparently, my debate background is peeking through.

1. This is a very accessible classic novel to read. I think I’ve spoken about this before. Some classic novels are so much easier to read, even written decades or centuries ago even, the author writes in plain language, or the characters shine through the difference in the English language as it was before and how it is now. Sister Carrie is the story of a young girl who moves to Chicago from a small rural town in Wisconsin. She moves in with her sister. On the way there though, she meets a man named Drouet, who introduces her to some of the finer things about living in a city (and not in a dirty way, minds out of the gutters people!). Carrie begins to long for it, but once with her sister and her sister’s honest, hardworking, immigrant husband, she finds herself too meek to find a good job. When she does bolster her courage up, she is rebuffed from the places she dreamed of working because of a lack of experience. She finally gets a job in a sweatshop but that doesn’t last long. She then moves out with Drouet and meets Hurstwood, a manager of a bar/club. Hurstwood falls in love with her, she with him. But, Hurstwood declines to inform her he is married. His wife finds out and Hurstwood flees Chicago for New York City, dragging an initially unwilling Carrie with him (she had found out about his marital status). Once in New York City, he finds a lesser position which slowly ends, and he then spirals downwards into unemployment and eventual begging. Due to this unemployment, Carrie finds a job acting and hits the big time on Broadway. Their fates are like counterweights, the more Carrie’s rises, the more Hurstwood’s falls.

2. Oddly, I was actually able to picture much of this book. I read so much, but I usually only have barebone sketches in my head of the people, places etc of the book. I think some people fully visualize the stories they read. Either that’s just not the way my brain works or I’m somehow lacking in imagination but usually I have a general idea what a place or person looks like. But, parts of Sister Carrie, I could actually see, as if I was watching an old movie about the time period and the characters. It was actually a pretty amazing experience.

3. Carrie is an interesting character. She is both enthralled and enticed by the “shallow” things, nice clothes, pretty belongings, nice living spaces. But, she also has a great sense of empathy, part of what allows her to act, and to do it so well.

4. Even Dreiser’s ending had a bit of cinematic feel to it (which is pretty amazing, considering the book was written in 1900). He segued between all the characters, showing them as to what they were doing at a particular moment in time. This is a device I’ve seen in more than one movie or show. As a plot reaches its climax, the camera will cut away to this character and their actions, then maybe across the country to this character. A great example of what I’m talking about would be the series finale for House.

5. For Sister Carrie, Dreiser definitely did not believe in a happy ending. See, there is this crazed serial killer out there, and somehow he manages to hunt down and find all of these characters in so many different places and murders them all! Sorry, that’s not the truth, but I won’t destroy the ending for you. Just read this, it’s easy and then if you’re not a common reader of classics, you can wow all your friends with how intelligent you are! (again…just teasing 🙂 )

Have a great weekend!

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