Critical Essays Chapter Titles in Sister Carrie


The original title of Sister Carrie was to have been The Flesh and the Spirit; this reveals the kind of symbolic pattern Dreiser had in mind. Carrie's craving for pleasure — as represented chiefly by money and clothes — shows the forces at work on the "flesh." Her wonder and awe, and her awareness of "the constant drag to something better" signify the workings of spirit." Carrie seems to see herself in terms of this conventional division. Although she knows she has a powerful appreciation for material possession, she also realizes that she has an emotional depth quite beyond the scope of the genial but egotistical Drouet. It is this "sympathetic, impressionable nature" that attracts Hurstwood toward her.

A good many of the chapter titles enforce this division between body and spirit. The titles seem to provide a symbolic or allegorical framework for the narrative. They are, incidentally, cast in the style of popular magazine verse, and generally appear as metrical lines of eleven or twelve syllables. Dreiser seems to rely upon them to reveal his intentions. "The Lure of the Spirit: The Flesh in Pursuit" gives title to two successive chapters in which Hurstwood becomes seriously stirred by Carrie and asks her to go away with him. Dreiser continues to present Carrie as an ignorant but gradually awakening seeker after the significance of life in the chapter, "A Pilgrim, an Outlaw: The Spirit Detained." In this chapter Hurstwood has virtually kidnapped Carrie and is taking her to Canada with him. Carrie's "spirit" is once again stirred when she realizes that the unfortunate Hurstwood has failed and that she must strike out for herself in "The Spirit Awakens: New Search for the Gate."

It seems to be characteristic of the chapter titles to describe briefly a situation and indicate a possible reaction to it; thus the greatest part of them take the following form: "The Lure of the Material: Beauty Speaks for Itself," "A Glimpse Through the Gateway: Hope Lights the Eye," and "A Pet of Good Fortune: Broadway Flaunts Its Joys."

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