Carrie misunderstands Hurstwood's Brooklyn trolley venture, thinking that "he had encountered nothing worse than the ordinary roughness." The same night that Hurstwood spends in the car barn Carrie gains the approval of the star of the show through a clever ad lib remark. The line remains in the show, and soon thereafter she wins her first speaking part.
Having now "tried and failed," Hurstwood sinks lower and begins to experience reveries of glorious past times when he was the center of attention in Chicago society. He is continually harassed at home by creditors.
As Carrie's salary increases, so does her resentment at having to support Hurstwood's dead weight. She debates leaving him to take a room with Lola Osborne. When a new part is given to her, she spends for costumes all the rent money she has been saving. The thought of leaving the pathetic Hurstwood fills her with sadness; nevertheless, one spring day she gathers her clothes and belongings and leaves the apartment. In a note to Hurstwood, she explains that she needs all the money she makes for clothes and costumes and that it is no use trying to keep up the flat. She gives him twenty dollars and all their furniture.
When Hurstwood returns after a day of wandering, he reads the note and is struck by a powerful sensation of coldness. He sits in the rocker for a long time, staring at the floor.
A counterpoint to the ebbing Hurstwood's pathetic answer "No; I'm not anything" is Carrie's clever remark to the star of the show one evening. Part of a group of Oriental beauties in a comic opera, she is led before the potentate, who asks, "Well, who are you?" Her answer, "I am yours truly," rocks the audience with appreciative laughter. Compared to Hurstwood's tight-lipped admission of defeat, Carrie's is a sign of her growing belief in herself and in her blossoming talents. Carrie, although she is somewhat timid, is a very capable young lady. She has learned much by experience.
Among the things she has learned is the manner in which to treat men. "No longer the lightest word of a man made her head dizzy. She had learned that men could change and fail." She is no longer won over through personal flattery. To win her over now a man must show the "kindly superiority" that Bob Ames had shown.
Through frequent reference to Ames, Dreiser reminds the reader that Carrie is capable of a purely emotional and mental response to a man without overtones of materialistic desire. Unfortunately for her, however, Ames has forgotten her and is working faraway in another city. The one man who can move her is lost to her. With characteristic irony Dreiser reveals that life for Carrie is largely the process of substituting one form of desire and frustration for another.
Hurstwood does move her slightly, but he also repels her. Just before Carrie leaves him, she feels guilty and begins to act solicitously toward him. He is no longer worthless or shiftless to her, but run down and "beaten by chance." His eyes are no longer sharp and keen; his hair is beginning to turn gray; his hands are flabby and his face shows great wear. Perhaps, she thinks, his failure is not all his own fault. Nevertheless, he is still a burden to her and she resolves to leave him.