Julia Hurstwood's presence in the novel enables Dreiser to construct a neat symmetry of parallels, contrasts, and conflicts among the cast of two men and two women in the novel. Drouet remains virtually unchanged after Carrie's departure; similarly, Mrs. Hurstwood continues in her self-centered ways after her divorce from Hurstwood. Also like Drouet, Mrs. Hurstwood resists change and seems to thrive on her own willful selfishness. Thus, their futures, in contrast to those of Carrie and Hurstwood, lie safe from the vicissitudes of fortune, for they are both incapable of extending any feeling or emotion beyond their own sphere of interest. Finally they are both the jealous jilted partner in their individual domestic situations, yet they fail to place any blame upon themselves.
To the extent that his philosophy would permit it, Dreiser shows Mrs. Hurstwood to be an active agent in the shaping of events that result in the cycle of Carrie's ironic rise and Hurstwood's descent from affluent good fellow to seedy panhandler. Mrs. Hurstwood seems the very figure of doom waiting to fall upon the other main characters; she is the "villain" of the novel, the only character whose motives are purely negative. Her relationship with Hurstwood, for example, is maintained only "by force of habit, by force of conventional opinion." Because of her cold self-centeredness, she is continually frustrated, suspicious, and jealous, but her jealousy is not the product of passion, rather it is calculating and vengeful. She is aptly described as "a pythoness in humor."
In her actions and pronouncements Mrs. Hurstwood represents the upper part of the society to which she belongs. She is a moral hypocrite, eager to set adrift and forget anyone who does not conform to her narrow standards. Her values are only those of wealth, social status and appearance.