Sister Carrie By Theodore Dreiser Summary and Analysis Chapters 8-10

Summary

Very early the next morning Minnie awakes to find Carrie's note. Minnie is severely upset because she knows what ill fortune might befall a young girl alone in the city. Hanson is not the least upset by Carrie's departure; he is probably glad to be rid of her.

Already Carrie's life has changed significantly, for even while the Hansons are discussing her departure, she is sound asleep in a furnished room of her own in another part of the city. When Drouet calls to take her out to breakfast, she tells him that she is anxious to begin looking for work again. Drouet sweeps away her worrying by telling her not to hurry, to take her time seeing the city and getting "fixed up." The conversation turns to Carrie's new clothes and Drouet's promise to buy her more. With that, her misgivings about leaving the Hansons and her anxiety over what Drouet intends to do with her are cast aside.

The couple spend their days together shopping and sightseeing. Carrie gradually begins to realize how pretty she is and begins to feel the thrill of being an attractive well-dressed woman with a gallant escort. In the evenings they visit the theater and dine in the more fashionable restaurants of the city.

One evening as Carrie and Drouet are walking to the theater while the rest of the world is hurrying home from work, a pair of eyes meets Carrie's in recognition. The eyes are those of one of the factory girls with whom Carrie used to work: She is poorly dressed in shabby garments. As the two exchange glances, Carrie feels "as if some great tide had rolled between them. The old dress and the old machine came back." Carrie is so startled that she bumps into a pedestrian.

Stopping for an after-theater snack, Carrie is not troubled by the lateness of the hour or any household law which will drag her home. The combined influence of the many occurrences of the day makes Carrie relaxed and carefree, once again a victim of the city's hypnotic powers.

Drouet walks Carrie to the house where she is staying and, although it is only suggested by Dreiser, it seems safe to assume that he asks Carrie to live with him. While Carrie and Drouet stand on the doorstep, sister Minnie dreams a succession of nightmares. In her several dreams Minnie and Carrie stand together at the brink of a dark precipice and then Carrie slips away and falls out of sight.

About a week later Drouet strolls into Fitzgerald and Moy's to invite his friend Hurstwood to spend an evening with him and Carrie. Hurstwood accepts warmly. He is always glad to get away from his family and home life, for there are no bonds of understanding. Although the house is fashionably and opulently appointed, it lacks warmth. His children are irresponsible and snobbish; his wife is a social climber and a bit of a shrew.

The Hurstwood household, the narrator concludes, "ran along by force of habit, by force of conventional opinion. With the lapse of time it must necessarily become dryer and dryer must eventually be tinder, easily lighted and destroyed."

Now that Carrie and Drouet have set up housekeeping, Drouet is pleased by his conquest; Carrie is at times full of somber misgivings. Drouet has rented a small furnished apartment in Ogden Place, facing Union Park. Through Carrie's "industry and natural love of order," the place is made very pleasing.

Carrie's difficulties, more basic in the recent past, have now become mental ones, "and altogether so turned about in all of her earthly relationships that she might well have been a new and different individual." In the mirror she sees a pretty face, but when she looks within herself she sees an image composed of her own judgments and those of society that makes her experience a certain moral queasiness. Carrie wavers between these two reflections, wondering which one to embrace. Her conscience, "only an average little conscience," is shaped by the world, her own past life, habit, and convention, all welded together in a confused way. Her conscience bothers her because she failed to live with moral correctness even before she tried. Carrie is in a "winter" mood, full of silent brooding. Nevertheless the secret voice of her conscience grows more and more feeble.

Drouet is together with Carrie most of the time, except for sporadic, short business trips. Drouet continually procrastinates about marriage to Carrie, telling her there is a business deal he must close before he can give himself over to thoughts of legal marriage. Carrie seeks marriage, for that would salve her conscience and justify her actions of late. Carrie herself knows that she feels no special love for Drouet, but she thinks that marriage would be insurance against losing his affection and generosity.

Hurstwood arrives and deports himself with a grace and polish that the young Drouet lacks. Accustomed to pleasing men in his work, Hurstwood is even more tactful and attentive to pretty women in his desire to please them and be of service. His conservative but rich apparel further contrasts him to Drouet. Carrie compares little details, such as the dull shine of Hurstwood's black calf shoes with Drouet's shiny patent leather shoes, and she favors the soft rich leather.

The three play euchre, a card game popular at the time. Hurstwood behaves so deferentially and warmly that even Drouet feels closer to him than ever before. In Carrie's presence Hurstwood replaces his everyday "shifty, clever gleam" of the eyes with geniality and kindness and innocence.

Hurstwood contrives the game so that Carrie wins all the dimes that they have been playing for. He invites them to go to the theater with him before Drouet's impending trip. Hurstwood reveals his "magnanimity" by offering to visit Carrie when Drouet is out of town and Carrie and Drouet remark how kind he is. After a snack and a bottle of wine, Hurstwood leaves the young couple nearly dazed by his charm.

Analysis

One aspect of Dreiser's "naturalistic" method which a good many critics find fault with is his frequent and lengthy editorial intrusions. It is characteristic of Dreiser's method to present a repetitive discussion of fate or morality and then drive home the point by showing a character undergoing nearly the same process of thought. It is up to the individual reader to discover for himself whether this method is entirely successful. Chapter 9 opens with a short essay on the relationship of morality and evolution. Mankind in his present state of civilization is scarcely a beast in that he is no longer wholly guided by instinct; neither is he completely human, because he is not yet wholly guided by reason. Mankind must constantly waver between instinctual harmony with nature or rational harmony with his own free will.

Carrie finds herself in such a position. Her instincts and desires have driven her to Drouet, but her reason and understanding cause her to have misgivings about it. In the statement, "She was as yet more drawn than she drew," the future of Carrie's self-control is suggested. Worldly experience will teach her to align her instincts with her reason.

In the episode where Carrie meets one of the girls with whom she used to work she sees what a great tide had rolled between the nearly animal existence of the past and her present situations. Her "vain imaginings" reveal to her what it is to be wholly human," to have power and position and to conduct herself as her reason or will would permit. To Carrie as well as to Dreiser, the presence of wealth and fine clothing indicates a wide freedom of choice. Thus, those "magnificent people" are more closely aligned with free will.

The two antithetical portions of Carrie's mind, her conscience and her desire, make another appearance in Chapter 10. There, standing before the mirror, she sees that her face reveals a more attractive girl than she was before but that her mind, "a mirror prepared of her own and the world's opinions," reveals a worse" creature than she had been before. She wavers between these two images, uncertain of which one to believe.

The "inner" mirror, the reservoir of social and acquired moral opinion, must be watched closely by the reader. Sister Carrie is a study in depth of character; what happens inside Carrie's mind is actually far more important than her outward fortune or trials and tribulation.

Dream symbolism provides a method of revealing what the world outside thinks of Carrie's behavior. Minnie, Carrie's sister, functions in the novel as a choric figure. In her dream is revealed what the standard judgment of Carrie's actions would be. Carrie is leaving the world of her sister to go to a dark and dangerous world below the surface of the ground. The swirling waters or unplumbed darkness of that world without a rigid morality seem certain to destroy the naive girl. It is no more necessary to accept Minnie's dream as absolute truth, however, than it is to accept Carrie's estimate of her sister Minnie as absolute and unbiased truth. Each girl unconsciously sees the other as a projection of herself, and thus interprets the life of the other as it would seem to herself. In the structure of the novel Carrie and Minnie, as well as Drouet and Hurstwood, are paired for comparison and contrast.

The irony of Carrie's belief that wealthy people have an unlimited freedom of choice is made apparent by the description of Hurstwood's family life. Hurstwood is practically a stranger in his own home, but his position is so inextricably related to his home life that he can make no changes: "He could not complicate his home life, because it might affect his relations with his employers. They wanted no scandals. A man, to hold his position, must have a dignified manner." It is ironic also that it is Carrie herself who will eventually cause Hurstwood to "complicate" his condition. Still another irony appears in these chapters; this takes the form of ironic foreshadowing. To Drouet's remark, after Hurstwood ends his visit, that he is a "nice man" and a "good friend," Carrie responds with unconscious irony, "He seems to be."

Very often readers of Dreiser take his seeming simplicity of technique too lightly, even though it should be apparent that he possesses a talent for making symbolic use of ordinary details. Thus, for example, in the card game played at the first meeting of Carrie and Hurstwood, Dreiser provides a microcosm, or miniature model, of the characters, forces, and movement of the novel. In this game of chance and skill Hurstwood manipulates his hand so that Carrie can win all the money while Drouet remains ignorant of what is happening. "Don't you moralize," Hurstwood says to Carrie, "until you see what becomes of the money."

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