Sister Carrie By Theodore Dreiser Summary and Analysis Chapters 22-23

Summary

"The misfortune of the Hurstwood household was due to the fact that jealousy, having been born out of love, did not perish with it." Mrs. Hurstwood maintains a form of jealousy that turns itself into hatred. She is resentful and suspicious of Hurstwood as she observes his youthful demeanor.

Mrs. Hurstwood learns from the family doctor that Hurstwood had been driving recently on the Boulevard. Since she knows it was not their daughter Jessica who was with him and certainly not herself, she concludes that Hurstwood is seeing another woman.

The day after Carrie's theater appearance, Mrs. Hurstwood hears from a few acquaintances how sorry they were to learn she was "ill" and could not attend. She broods herself "into a state of sullen desire for explanation and revenge."

Hurstwood returns home from business in a sunny mood, hoping to improve relations somewhat with his wife. With a "wrathful sneer" Mrs. Hurstwood accuses him of "trifling around." It seems to Hurstwood that she knows much more about his recent activities then she reveals. As tempers flare, Mrs. Hurstwood threatens to consult her lawyer and Hurstwood leaves the room.

Once again Carrie is fraught with doubt and indecision. Is it wise to leave the secure relationship she has with Drouet on the chance that Hurstwood will marry her?

Upon returning home that evening, Drouet begins to cross examine Carrie about her relations with Hurstwood, revealing to her that Hurstwood is married. To his surprise Carrie attacks him for not warning her earlier about Hurstwood. The argument wavers back and forth until Drouet packs his clothes and leaves in a fit of jealous anger.

Analysis

Dreiser shows in these chapters two of the ways in which jealousy manifests itself. Drouet's jealousy is in keeping with his penchant for fantasy and his blundering kindness. He seeks no revenge over Carrie; he is willing to accept her indiscretions, and when that becomes futile he shows a real concern for her welfare. But even as Carrie begins to consider it better to stay with Drouet rather than go with Hurstwood, a married man, Drouet's temper suddenly flares and he leaves, slamming the door. Carrie is astonished at the sudden rise of passion in the "good-natured and tractable" drummer. The narrator remarks that it is not possible for Carrie to see "the wellspring of human passion. A real flame of love is a subtle thing. It burns as a will-o'the-wisp, dancing onward to fairylands of delight. It roars as a furnace. Too often jealousy is the quality upon which it feeds."

Mrs. Hurstwood's jealousy is of an entirely different type. It is not passionate and sudden as in Drouet. It is cold and calculated to produce harm. It is the result of her resentment of Hurstwood's charm and "the airy grace with which he still took the world." She is in search of the clear proof of "one overt deed" which will release her wrath. As she broods she becomes "impending disaster itself." When she attacks Hurstwood, she remains cool and cynical, "a pythoness in humor." In contrast to Drouet, who shows a concern for Carrie's welfare, Mrs. Hurstwood wishes to strangle and crush her husband. She will consider her revenge unfinished until this happens.

Dreiser draws his imagery in these two chapters from savage nature. The vision of doom finds expression in images of stormy weather and "blackening thunderclouds" pouring forth "a rain of wrath." In the tempest of his wife's savage jealousy, Hurstwood is "like a vessel, powerful and dangerous, but rolling and floundering without sail." Similarly, in the onslaught of Drouet's discovery about her and Hurstwood and her own discovery about Hurstwood's marriage, Carrie is shaken loose from her "mooring of logic" and becomes "an anchorless, storm-beaten little craft which could do absolutely nothing but drift." Through such imagery Dreiser demonstrates his "naturalistic" philosophy, showing his belief that man is merely an object battered about by the dark forces of the natural universe. The ship, a conventional image of man's temporary but heroic triumph over nature, is cast adrift and battered about mercilessly.

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