Sister Carrie in Chicago and New York

‘Sister Carrie’ by Theodore Dreiser (1900)

‘Sister Carrie’ is about an eighteen year old young woman who leaves her family and small town in Wisconsin to go to the booming city of Chicago in the 1890s. Her family is so poor that they can’t give her any money beyond the train ticket, but she does have a married sister who lives in Chicago with whom she moves in. Her married sister and husband are also extremely poor, so Carrie must get a job. She gets a job with one of the magnificent new department stores in Chicago at the time, but they pay her so little she can’t buy anything in the store. All Carrie’s experience at the luxurious department store does is make Carrie want more out of her poverty-stricken life. Her sister’s husband expects Carrie to give most of her meager income to him and his wife. She escapes from her sister’s family by moving in with a pleasant young man she had met on the train to Chicago named Drouet. Later she meets a married man named Hurstwood who has a devastating impact on her life.

Theodore Dreiser wrote ‘Sister Carrie’ in 1900, but it was withheld from publication until 1912 because of its ‘sordid’ subject matter. It wasn’t published in its original form the way Dreiser actually wrote it until 1981. Here is our heroine, Carrie, living with a man without the benefit of marriage. I had read ‘Sister Carrie’ a long time ago before I discovered what a compelling writer Theodore Dreiser is. Since then I’ve come to treasure Theodore Dreiser’s novels and short stories. Thus when I had a chance to listen to the audiodisk of ‘Sister Carrie’, I went for it. This novel turned out to be perfect for listening on audiodisk, because Dreiser tells his story in direct straightforward prose, and there was no chance of getting lost between listenings. It held my attention throughout.

Theodore Dreiser’s background was as a journalist, and one facet of ‘Sister Carrie’ I liked was the attention to details about both the rich side of life with its department stores, horse races, and theatrical performances and the poor side of life with its hunger, grinding poverty, and violent labor strife. Theodore Dreiser started the school of naturalism in United States fiction, which can be described as telling things the way they really are rather than the way they could be or should be.

I can’t imagine two writers more different from each other than Theodore Dreiser and Henry James. Henry James is exquisite, and Theodore Dreiser is a barbarian. So far, I’m still very much in the Dreiser camp rather than the Henry James camp when it comes to early 1900s writers. Of course, both Willa Cather and Edith Wharton may be better writers than these two gentlemen. Opinions on Dreiser range from “among the American giants, one of the very few American giants we have had” (Irving Howe) to “If  he’s the great American novelist, give me the Marx Brothers every time” (Rupert Hart-Davis).

If you want an easy way to appreciate Theodore Dreiser, watch the 1951 film, ‘A Place in the Sun’, starring Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Shelley Winters. This movie is based on another excellent Dreiser novel, ‘An American Tragedy’. This movie is one of my favorite movies of all time.

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13 responses to this post.

  1. Sister Carrie is the only one of Drieser’s books that I’ve read, but I liked it very much. The detail, as you say, is amazing, and Drieser takes readers into so many different parts of society. I do have American Tragedy on my shelf, unread, and look forward to to reading it one day. I didn’t realize, though, that A Place in the Sun was based on An American Tragedy. I think I saw it years ago, but my memory of it is fuzzy.

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  2. Hi Teresa,
    A couple of years ago after watching Red River, I went through a Montgomery Clift phase. I had to watch all of his movies that he made before his disfiguring and soul-destroying accident in 1955, including ‘A Place in the Sun’. Before I watched it, I hadn’t realized the movie was based on ‘An American Tragedy’. The movie is quite faithful to the novel, and the acting by the three leads is superb. Dreiser’s less famous novels such as ‘The Titan’, ‘The Financier’, and ‘Jenny Gerhardt’ as well as his short stories are excellent too.

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  3. I read Sister Carrie a long time ago, but I still remember liking it a lot.
    By the way, the author is called Dreiser, not Drieser.

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    • Hi Anna,
      Thanks for the correct spelling – I corrected my entry. I remember wondering which is the correct spelling, and looking on the Internet – the place I looked may have had it wrong.

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  4. […] Cbn News TV Patrol Related blogs New york times to offer book review as a standalone e-reader … Sister carrie in chicago and new york « tony's book world Throw the book at steven rattner | sense on cents God stars in 3d book of genesis bible tale – […]

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  5. […] Cbn News TV Patrol Related blogs New york times to offer book review as a standalone e-reader … Sister carrie in chicago and new york « tony's book world Throw the book at steven rattner | sense on cents God stars in 3d book of genesis bible tale – […]

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  6. A topic close to my heart thanks. Needed more pictures though.

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  7. I understand that this might come off as rude, but I truly am not happy with the title Sister Carrie in Chicago and New York Tony's Book World . I think it is a awful atrocity to mankind. I believe you should definitely be more kind next time. Still I have to say, that your writing style is excellent. Kind Regards, Jude Bostic

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    • Hi Jude,
      I suppose ‘Sister Carrie in Chicago and New York’ does sound somewhat too informal. I did not intend it to sound disrespectful; I just wanted to convey what the novel is about. About half of the novel takes place in Chicago, and half takes place in New York.
      Thanks for the other kind words.

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  9. I am greatly indebted to you for this article. You have little understanding of how important it is to all of us. I can just be able to telling you thankyou nonetheless I am afraid this may not be enough. Peace to you all.

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  10. Hey this is an awesome post. thanks for sharing.

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