Sister Carrie By Theodore Dreiser Summary and Analysis Chapters 30-31

Summary

Approximately the first two years in New York is sketched in briefly. Hurstwood purchases a one-third partnership in a downtown establishment, one not nearly so "swell" as Fitzgerald and Moy's. After a few months, business improves and Hurstwood begins to resume his old public self He occasionally gambles and attends the theater with friends but cherishes his home life greatly. He begins to enlarge his wardrobe, but does not encourage Carrie to do so. It seems to him that she is content to be a housewife and so he begins to relax his demeanor before her and treat her with "easy familiarity."

For Carrie the routine of running the flat and basking in Hurstwood's affection seem interesting for a time. She attempts to understand that Hurstwood must spend his money frugally and so makes no demands for luxuries or entertainment. Because she is "passive and receptive" and she does not love Hurstwood, she is not jealous of his public life. Gradually, however, she becomes aware of the changes in Hurstwood and begins to resent being neglected.

In the second year, Carrie meets a new neighbor, Mrs. Vance, whose elegant clothing and fashionable behavior begin to awaken her old desires. One day she attends a matinee with Mrs. Vance, and she becomes fascinated with the "showy parade" of "pretty faces and fine clothes" on Broadway. "With a start she awoke to find that she was in fashion's crowd, on parade in a show place — and such a show place!" Carrie is "cut to the quick" by her own lack of quality and stylish apparel and she resolves never to walk upon Broadway again until she looks better. She feels her old desire to enter into the world of fashion as an equal; "then she would be happy!"

Analysis

The treatment of passing time in these chapters, in contrast to the plodding sequences of the last days in Chicago or the hectic compressed time of the departure and trip through Canada, is leisurely and without incident. Nearly two years pass by in New York, whereas before only about six months had elapsed since Carrie's arrival in Chicago. Such a treatment of time reveals the routine existence into which Carrie and Hurstwood have entered. Nothing much happens and so time passes unnoticed.

Credit must be given Hurstwood for his serious attempt to forestall the tragedy of disappearing into the walls of New York. In contrast to Chicago, where celebrities were so few, New York is full of notables and a man of Hurstwood's fallen station and age has no chance of gaining prestige. In New York, the origin of all "wealth, place, and fame," Hurstwood finds himself in the humiliating situation of searching for work and living on a frugal budget. He lives in constant fear of the shame that would come in meeting old friends.

Unfortunately, Hurstwood takes Carrie for granted. Struggling with his own problems, he is unaware that she requires more than mere affection, mortgaged furniture, and the vague promise of more money in the future. "He failed therein to take account of the frailties of human nature — the difficulties of matrimonial life." Dreiser makes frequent mention of the fact that no great bond of love exists to hold the couple together. Both go on, unaware and unadvised of the problems and requirements of the other. Neither has enough faith to invite the other into full confidence. Hurstwood lives in the frustration of the past and Carrie lives in the fantasies of the future.

Hurstwood draws contentment from his mistaken belief that Carrie is content with her lot, but as Carrie sees more and more of New York, her early desires and frustrations are reawakened. Once again she feels herself cut off from Hurstwood's world, as well as the higher world beyond him.

In Hurstwood's attentive behavior toward Mrs. Vance, Carrie perceives the changes that have come over their relationship. She begins to feel stale and gloomy and begins to think of old possibilities. "There were no immediate results to this awakening, for Carrie had little power of initiative; but, nevertheless, she seemed ever capable of getting herself into the tide of change where she would be easily borne along."

In invoking the past and omitting any specific reference to the future, Dreiser succeeds in building a kind of suspense. By pointing out the recurrent parallel patterns of change in Carrie and Hurstwood, the author invites the reader to speculate about "future possibility."

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