Even though she does not see Ames again for some time, Carrie thinks of him as an ideal to contrast other men by. Compared to the youthful Ames, Hurstwood seems old and uninteresting, while Drouet seems foolish and shallow.
Hurstwood himself is sliding past the prime of life, and largely because of that, he begins to lose the decisiveness that had once made him prosperous and successful. For a time this is not apparent even to him, but gradually he begins to see himself outside "the walled city" of youth and easy money and fine clothes.
The narrator postulates that this change for the worse is the result of "certain poisons in the blood, called katastates." The poisons arising from remorse work against the system and finally produce "marked physical deterioration." Subject to these, Hurstwood becomes a brooder.
Reading the daily newspaper reports of the celebrities with whom he used to associate, Hurstwood becomes even more depressed with his own lowly state. In an effort to avert disaster, Hurstwood decides that he and Carrie should move into a smaller apartment and dismiss the maid. Carrie is very gloomily affected by the change, "more seriously than anything that had yet happened." She begins to recall that Hurstwood "had practically forced her to flee with him."
As Hurstwood continues to brood, only the newspapers and his own thoughts seem of any importance to him. "The delight of love had again slipped away." To make matters worse, the lease on the Warren Street establishment expires and Hurstwood finds himself facing the coming winter without any income. He begins to search halfheartedly for a new position. He visits a few saloons but realizes that his meager $700 is not nearly enough for a substantial investment.
Hurstwood's appearance is still excellent, however; he continues to dress well and looks prosperous. Now forty-three years old and "comfortably built" he finds walking about the city makes his legs tired, his shoulders ache, and his feet hurt. It makes him bitter to have to enter business places announcing that he was looking for "something to do."
His days are largely spent lounging in the lobbies of the larger New York hotels watching the world pass before him. At night he returns home to read the papers and lose himself in the "Lethean waters . . . of telegraphed intelligence." So he reads and rocks himself in the warm room near the radiator.
The routine he falls into consists of reading the morning newspapers, leaving the house in search of work only to rest in a hotel lobby, and returning home to read the evening papers. As winter sets in he leaves the house even less, except to go on household errands as a means of justifying his presence. He deteriorates quickly, wearing his worst clothes, and shaving only once a week. His very appearance becomes revolting to Carrie, and she begins to sleep alone.
By doing all the daily errands, Hurstwood cuts household expenses to a minimum and never gives any money to Carrie. When he is not out buying food or coal, he sits by the radiator, reading and rereading his newspaper.
Dreiser suggests in one of his many editorial asides that Hurstwood's failing condition is the universal lot of men. After a certain time the balance of youth and age begins to tip in favor of age. The body and mind lose their vitality. Therefore Hurstwood suddenly finds himself an outsider to the small circumscribed world to which he used to belong. The realization of this removes him even farther.
Hurstwood still believes that by economizing severely for a year so that he can reinvest, he and Carrie can rise again to a state of financial well-being. Unfortunately, he is fooling himself. He begins to forget how sullen and depressed he has become so that everything he tries is doomed to failure.
By showing Hurstwood going through almost exactly the same motions as Carrie as he searches for work, Dreiser underscores his philosophy of fate and fortune. Through a few incidental changes, as they are altered and increased by time, Hurstwood has slipped from very high on his own social ladder to a point below the register. Like Carrie had been, he is forced to walk the streets and realize his own inexperience in the ways of the working world. He has few skills, for his past career was built upon his excellent appearance and jovial personality. He is forced to consider any opportunity that gives him "something to do."
As Hurstwood slips down into decadence, Carrie becomes more and more independent and detached from him. She does not fall with him but remains a "soldier of fortune," somehow believing that fate, even though it ruins Hurstwood, will provide for her. She continues to believe that the theater is a possible way out of the situation for her.
The parallels between Hurstwood and the Carrie of old suggest how different both have become. Now it is Hurstwood who sits idly rocking back and forth in the chair. His newspapers serve to banish the worries of the day. So far removed is he from the world of society, that it becomes a dream world, a land of fantasy where he flees to forget his troubles.
As Hurstwood sits daily in the Broadway hotel lobbies, he recalls how he used to be an important member of the clan of idle and gay people and reminisces bitterly how much money it takes to live in that manner. As he sits in one of the many plush lobbies, Hurstwood is approached by Mr. Cargill of Chicago. When Carrie made her debut in the Elks' theatrical three years ago, Cargill took advantage of the situation to introduce his wife and shake the hand of the influential and powerful Hurstwood. How clear and yet how far away that event seems to Hurstwood. Both men are now embarrassed by Hurstwood's obviously fallen condition.
In Chicago Carrie had nowhere to go but up. In New York, approaching age and constant depression make it possible for Hurstwood to go nowhere but down. He is now the walking shell of the man he used to be. Carrie cannot fully comprehend the changes in Hurstwood, for she does not know what it means to be completely without hope. As Hurstwood's respect for himself vanishes, it perishes for him in Carrie. She knows that he still has some money left and presentable clothes and that he is not unattractive when dressed up. She does not forget her own difficult struggle in Chicago, but neither does she forget that she never ceased trying to find work. It seems to her that Hurstwood never tried. He does not even consult the employment notices anymore. What Carrie does not understand is what Hurstwood understands too well: that a middle-aged man in a state of depression and without skills has no chance of finding work in New York when 80,000 people are unemployed.
Finally her patience and understanding reach the breaking point. When Hurstwood reminds her how expensive is the butter that she uses to flavor their meager half-pound of steak, she remarks archly, "You wouldn't mind if you were working." All feeling between them has perished.