Summary and Analysis
Although Carrie has avoided Mrs. Vance since she and Hurstwood have moved to the commonplace Thirteenth Street address, she experiences mixed feelings when she meets the young woman on the street by chance one day. She invites Mrs. Vance to visit "some time," afraid to have her see Hurstwood in his bedraggled condition.
Hurstwood, however, does not always sit about with his four-day beard and in a condition of "utmost nonchalance." Occasionally, he shaves and dresses merely to wander about the city. At times he joins in a poker game, neither winning nor losing significantly. One day he wins a few dollars, and the dim phantom of hope draws him back for another game the next day. Hurstwood is so keen to win, however, that his facial expressions give him away. He loses over sixty precious dollars. He resolves to play no more.
He continues to sit about the house, lacking pride or interest in his own or Carrie's welfare. While Carrie is out one day, Mrs. Vance stops to visit and is dismayed by Hurstwood's appearance. An argument ensues when Carrie learns of this. Hurstwood is ashamed of himself; he dresses carefully and leaves the house. After treating himself to an expensive dinner, he decides to try his hand at another poker game. This time he loses nearly a hundred dollars.
Wondering what is becoming of himself, he wavers between extreme frugality and ridiculous self-indulgence. When it comes time to pay the rent, Hurstwood discovers that he is "nearing his last hundred dollars."
The significance of this chapter lies in the irony of Hurstwood's attempt to make money by playing poker. Through a series of chance occurrences combined with a certain ineptitude in responding wisely to these occurrences, Hurstwood has lost at the game of life. It is no wonder, then, that he fails so miserably at this backroom game of chance. Making the irony particularly incisive is the fact that while Hurstwood was prosperous and important, he had no difficulty in manipulating a game of euchre for Carrie to win. Now himself a pawn of fate, Hurstwood cannot believe that he has lost his skill at poker. Hurstwood does not "introspect"; consequently he fails to see that he is not "the old Hurstwood — only a man arguing with a divided conscience and lured by a phantom." He is no longer a master of the bluff. Carrie learns this shortly before he does himself.
Each chapter in the story of Hurstwood's dissolution is also a chapter in the tale of Carrie's disillusionment. In each chapter she learns a new lesson or discovers something new about her relationship with Hurstwood. In this episode she discovers that her "marriage" is not legal or binding. It does not exist; like "Murdock," "Wheeler," or even Hurstwood, it is merely one more trumped-up phantom of belief. When Hurstwood leaves the apartment, Carrie thinks for a moment that he is gone for good. This does not distress her; still dependent upon him for financial support, she is merely concerned that he has left her without money.