After the matinee Carrie returns home to dwell upon what seems to her the extraordinarily beautiful world of the theater and regrets in her heart that she cannot be part of it. Nevertheless, New York seems to be a place filled with even more wonder and fantasy than Chicago itself. She believes that she can "never live" until she becomes a part of New York society.
When Hurstwood enters, Carrie is in her rocking chair, moody, testy, and resentful of having her reveries broken in upon. He invites her to the theater with him that same evening and she accepts.
About a month later, Carrie goes out for dinner and theater as the guest of the Vance's and Mrs. Vance's cousin, Bob Ames. As they dine at Sherry's, a very exclusive restaurant of the period, Ames, a "clear-eyed, fine-headed youth," suggests to Carrie that wealth and fashionable attire are only unnecessary luxuries. Ames seems "wiser than Hurstwood, saner and brighter than Drouet." His sincere rejection of excessive wealth removes some of the bitterness of the contrast between the society life and Carrie's life. Yet Carrie is attracted by his intelligence, and sees that his "calm indifference" is not the response of a bitter loser. When the evening is over Carrie retires to her rocking chair to think over the events of the day. "Through a fog of longing and conflicting desires . . . she was beginning to see."
Ever since leaving Chicago, Carrie has desired little in the way of entertainment and worldly possessions. It is an inexplicable quirk of character, yet one of which even Carrie herself is not aware. Dreiser has prepared the reader for a revelation on Carrie's part for several chapters through his choice of imagery and detail and the carefully delineated presentation of the "love" between Carrie and Hurstwood, and especially through his handling of time. Since her afternoon with Mrs. Vance, Carrie has been experiencing the aftereffects of "the great awakening blow." Even if she retreats briefly from her reveries, she will return to them again: "Time and repetition — ah, the wonder of it! The dropping water and the solid stone — how utterly it yields at last!"
Mrs. Vance, who has become Carrie's fashion adviser, just as Drouet had been, is eager to show Carrie the ways of the higher world. Yet her plan backfires because her own cousin, Bob Ames, invites Carrie to question seriously the values and assumptions she has held. Ames is happy and successful, even though he is all alone. Indeed, wonders Carrie, why can't I reach my goals alone? Why not try to find a part in the theater? At the "feast of Belshazzar" the handwriting on the wall becomes clear with Ames as the seer. Suddenly, after three years of being a mere housewife to the tired Hurstwood, Carrie is beginning to see that the possibilities of New York exist for her only if she is willing to take advantage of them.
Realizing that not only Hurstwood, but she herself, has become rather dull and uninteresting, Carrie is now on the verge of turning her imaginary world of the theater into a reality. The water is striking through the stone at last.