Sister Carrie By Theodore Dreiser Summary and Analysis Chapter 5

Summary

Because of the letter, Drouet does not visit Carrie on Monday evening. After dining in a rather exclusive restaurant, he stops in at Fitzgerald and Moy's saloon to have a drink with the manager, his friend George Hurstwood. After a brief discussion of business associates and acquaintances, Drouet leaves for the theater. Just as he is leaving, Drouet mentions the "little peach" he met on the train, but Hurstwood is unimpressed.

Analysis

Most of this short chapter consists of Dreiser's commentary on the manner in which social status is achieved and maintained. Drouet dines frequently at Rector's because it is a resort for actors and professional men and thus it inflates his vanity and stirs his ambition. For the same reason he seeks the comforts of Fitzgerald and Moy's saloon, which Dreiser describes in his awkward style as a "truly swell saloon."

The introduction of Hurstwood, who some critics believe is the central character of the novel, shows him to be just under forty, vigorous, urbane, and distinguished by fine clothing and conservative good taste. Hurstwood is of that class of people who bow only to the luxuriously rich. He maintains a rigidly graduated scale of informality and friendship which covers all patrons of the "gorgeous saloon."

Dreiser embarks on a discussion of the institution of the men's saloon. Visitors there seek pleasure as well as the satisfaction of shining among their betters. In a society which equates wealth with individual worth, the worst such an institution would do is stir up the ambition of the materialist, such as Drouet, so that he too could conduct his life on a splendid basis. It is not the richness of the establishment which does this, however; it is the inner workings of the mind. This is the genuine masculine counterpart of the world of Carrie's dreams of fine clothes and manners, wealth, position, and enjoyment.

By implication Dreiser says that to a newcomer this saloon must seem a "strange and shiny thing." Then with a measure of irony he adds, "what a lamp-flower it must bloom; a strange, glittering night-flower, odor-yielding, insect-drawing, insect-infested rose of pleasure." Thus by contrasting what such a place seems to its regular patrons with what it would seem to an outsider, Dreiser as narrator invites the reader to see the aimlessly wandering, dressy, greedy company as not terribly different from Carrie herself, only "luckier" and wealthier.

The thematic and structural import of the chapter lies in its final paragraph. Determined to show the inexplicable workings of fate, Dreiser provides justification for diverting the reader's attention away from Carrie so early in the novel. The story of Carrie will be the story of Drouet and Hurstwood as well: "Thus was Carrie's name bandied about in the most frivolous and gay of places, and that also when the little toiler was bemoaning her narrow lot, which was almost inseparable from the early stages of this, her unfolding fate."

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