Summary and Analysis Chapters 20-21



On the morning after Carrie's performance, Hurstwood is troubled with the problem of getting her away from Drouet. Since both he and his wife are in a bad mood, they bicker over family details. Mrs. Hurstwood is determined to receive more "ladylike treatment" in the future.

Carrie is basking in the glory of her own achievement, Hurstwood's passion for her forming a pleasant background. She begins to feel the subtle change in feeling that transfers one from the charity line into the ranks of almsgivers. Now she will dispense the favors.

Drouet is suddenly more attentive to Carrie and promises sincerely to marry her. He is beginning to sense her independence and hopes to avoid any possible danger.

Carrie leaves the house right after Drouet. Drouet, upon returning to retrieve some papers, finds the apartment empty, except for the chambermaid. As he flirts with the girl he learns that Hurstwood has been visiting Carrie nearly every day during his absence. Drouet broods upon this new information and resolves to "find out, b'George, whether she'll act that way or not."

Carrie and Hurstwood meet in the park once more. After much ado, Carrie consents to leave Drouet at the end of a week. Hurstwood agrees to marry her then: "He would promise anything, everything, and trust to fortune to disentangle him." Carrie begins to believe that she is actually in love with the man.


These two very short chapters are used by Dreiser to build suspense. Their brevity suggests the emotional intensity in the situations of the three characters. Although the chapters are short, they are extremely important to the structure of the novel. Drouet begins to suspect Carrie's infidelity at nearly the same moment she resolves to leave him. In the intensity of the moment, Drouet forgets to maintain his beguiling charm with the chambermaid and Carrie forgets she is "married" to Drouet. Hurstwood, determined to have "Paradise, whatever might be the result," forgets to reason carefully. He lies and throws himself into the sea of his selfish passion.

Carrie, desiring marriage above all else, commits herself to Hurstwood on the very day that Drouet resolves to marry her. Hurstwood, promising marriage, is unaware of the danger that his wife is presently holding in store for him.

The imagery of the sea continues in the scene between Carrie and Hurstwood. (Compare this with the imagery of storms and upheaval in Chapter 22.) Hurstwood wants to "plunge in" and expostulate with Carrie, but finds himself "fishing for words." For Carrie the "floodgates" are open, and she finds herself "still illogically drifting and finding nothing at which to catch," "drifting... on a borderless sea of speculation." Hurstwood beats on against the current of Carrie's indecision. The imagery reveals Drouet's intention to show the nature of man's existence in a world of flux and irresistible change. Man is dominated and controlled by the forces of nature. At those times when he most needs it, his reason abandons him.

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