Carrie continues to grow more graceful and charming as the days pass. Drouet seeks to help along her change by making tactless and stupidly cruel comparisons with other women; he has no awareness of Carrie's extreme sensitivity. One evening as she sits alone listening to a piano being played in the next apartment she is moved to tears by the combination of its wistful sadness and her own mood. She is crying when Drouet arrives; he makes the absurd suggestion that they waltz to the music. "It was his first great mistake."
Returning from a business trip one evening, Drouet meets an old female acquaintance and invites her to dinner. To the chagrin of Drouet, Hurstwood enters the same restaurant and sees the two together. Drouet feels embarrassed and guilty, thinking correctly that Hurstwood will interpret this as a sign that Drouet is already growing tired of Carrie.
A few days later the couple receives an invitation from Hurstwood to join him at the theater. Carrie is concerned that Drouet might notice her readiness to break an engagement for Hurstwood that she was reluctant to break for him. His egotism is so strong, however, that the detail escapes his notice. Carrie recognizes not only that Hurstwood is the superior man, but also that he looks upon her with more than companionable affection. Drouet is losing Carrie's heart as quickly as Hurstwood gains it, but he is too sure of himself ever to suspect this.
In the meantime, Mrs. Hurstwood suspects her husband's tendencies, although she is not yet aware of his "moral defection." It is her nature to wait and brood upon revenge. Because much of his property is in her name Hurstwood behaves very carefully, since he could not be sure what she might do if she became dissatisfied. Realizing that all love between them has been lost over the years, Hurstwood is inclined to turn his back on the relationship, but Mrs. Hurstwood expects complete adherence to the forms of marriage, even though the spirit has waned. Nevertheless, Hurstwood begins to excuse himself more and more from family and social matters.
His interest in "Drouet's little shop girl" grows in proportion to his marital discontent. As for Carrie herself, she begins to acquire a sense of taste and wealth which guides her desire. Her neighbor, Mrs. Hale, with whom she walks and rides frequently, awakens the "siren voice of the unrestful" whispering in Carrie's ear. Sadly, Carrie longs for the power of affluence, which she is certain dispels all care and bestows every felicity.
One afternoon after a drive with Mrs. Hale, Carrie sits at home in her rocking chair by the window, feeling lonely and forsaken. Although she has seen little of Hurstwood through the long winter, she has kept him in mind by the strong impression their few meetings together had made on her. The manager arrives at that moment, and his presence and graceful manner and warmth cause Carrie to brighten until "all her best side is exhibited." Hurstwood's glances and light touches of the hand are as effective upon Carrie as the spoken words of a lover. They require no immediate decision or answer, only a warm response. Eventually, Hurstwood forces Carrie to admit that she is unhappy and dissatisfied with her life as it is. She becomes distressed by her own frankness and when Hurstwood departs, troubled and ashamed, she looks into the mirror, saying aloud, "I'm getting terrible... I don't seem to do anything right."
Hurstwood feels that a liaison with Carrie would provide him with a new opportunity for real life. Carrie's youth, naiveté, and vitality seem to compensate for all the deceit experience has led him to find in women. He wants to win Carrie and sincerely believes that "her fate mingled with his" would be far "better than if it were united with Drouet's."
Carrie compares the two men in her mind and sees that Drouet is the type who carries the "doom of all enduring relationships in his own lightsome manner and unstable fancy." He is too youthful to grieve long over a departed lover. She does realize, however, that Hurstwood has not yet formulated any plans except to accelerate the progress of their affection for each other.
Two days after their previous meeting, Hurstwood returns once again and he and Carrie go for a walk. Because he feels that he might be seen by someone who should not see him, Hurstwood suggests that they take a drive on the Boulevard, a country road where houses are just beginning to appear.
Hurstwood turns on his full passionate charm, confessing to Carrie that he loves her. This produces no visible effect, so he turns next to an appeal to her pity. Carrie can form no words or even thoughts; but she sees that Hurstwood's complaint of having no one to sympathize with him or show more than indifference is her complaint as well.
"Tell me that you love me," says Hurstwood. "Own to it." Carrie makes no answer but simply responds to Hurstwood's kiss. He asks then if she is now his "own girl." In response, she lays her head upon his shoulder.
Chapters 11, 12, and 13 might well be subtitled "Hurstwood's Courtship of Carrie." The courtship is simply one more variation on the theme of forbidden love, and its development is self-explanatory. Nevertheless, Dreiser's employment of imagery, symbol, and setting warrants some attention. The wresting away of Carrie from Drouet is presented with the imagery of battle and games. After the theater, Drouet is not aware "that a battle had been fought and his defenses weakened. He was like the Emperor of China, who sat glorying in himself, unaware that his fairest provinces were being wrested from him." On the way home, Drouet foolishly leaves Carrie to go to the forward platform of the streetcar to smoke, "and left the game as it stood." (For the relevance of games, see Commentary on Chapter 10.)
Another important source of imagery throughout the novel is the sea. When Hurstwood asks Carrie (in Chapter 12) if she is unhappy, she is described as "getting into deep water" and "letting her few supports float away from her." The prairie outside the city, a "flat, open scene," resembles the sea when Hurstwood confesses his love to Carrie. Throughout the novel Carrie experiences "floods" of emotion and frequently "drifts" off into thought. Hurstwood tells Carrie that before he met her, he was wont to "drift" about. Many times Carrie is shown rocking endlessly in a chair as if she were "a lone figure in a tossing, thoughtless sea."
The rocking chair itself is a symbol of Carrie's continued frustration and her inability to make a choice, wavering instead from one possibility to the other. Just before the first of Hurstwood's two visits which occur in these chapters Carrie sits rocking in her chair. Dreiser takes the opportunity to foreshadow the future outcome of her desire: "She hummed and hummed as the moments went by... and was therein as happy though she did not perceive it, as she ever would be."
Another important symbol is the mirror in which Carrie attempts to see inside herself to discover the truth or to reflect upon some problem. Like the rocking chair, the mirror represents the two poles of Carrie's thought, for it is also used by her simply to admire her appearance in new clothes. Both the rocking chair and the mirror fuse the desire for material satisfaction with the realization that Carrie is never happy if she continually desires something new. Naturally, Carrie is never conscious of the symbolic import of these articles, but certainly the author is, and so, it is hoped, is the reader.
The events of these particular chapters occur in the spring, traditionally a time of the emergence or reawakening of love. Hurstwood's attraction to Carrie seems "a flowering out of feelings which had been withering in dry and almost barren soil for many years." In a touch of humor rarely found in Dreiser, Hurstwood is overheard telling his wife that he saw the play "Rip Van Winkle" with Carrie and Drouet. In Carrie's presence Hurstwood feels as fresh as "one who is taken out of the flash of summer to the first cool breath of spring." References to the season abound throughout these chapters and provide a steady counterpoint to the frequent mention of winter in the first ten chapters. Carrie's affair with Drouet had been in the winter, but her new love occurs in the spring. On the prairie, as Hurstwood slips his arm about Carrie, "A breath of soft spring wind went bounding over the road, rolling some brown twigs of the previous autumn before it."
Attention has been called earlier to the method in which Drouet occasionally interrupts the narrative to present an idea or comment or theory, then eventually causes a character or situation to repeat the theme of the discussion in a different light. A fine example of this technique appears in Chapters 12 and 13. Dreiser interrupts a conversation between Carrie and Hurstwood to offer the following comment: "People in general attach too much importance to words. They are under the illusion that talking effects great results. As a matter of fact, words are, as a rule, the shallowest portion of all the argument. They but dimly represent the great surging feelings and desires which lie behind. When the distraction of the tongue is removed, the heart listens."
In Hurstwood and Carrie there appear, respectively, one who attaches "too much importance to words" and one whose "heart listens." Thus at the close of Chapter 13 Hurstwood repeatedly tries to spill out his thoughts and feelings in words and tries to require the same of Carrie. Carrie, sensitive soul that she is, can only respond with looks and gestures. Throughout the progress of their attachment, Carrie has been aware of the meaning of Hurstwood's glances and gestures, but he seems to require that she spell out her emotions in careful words and well-formed phrases.