Wednesday, 12 December 2001

Theodore Dreiser: Sister Carrie (1900)

Edition: 4literature -
Review number: 1011

At first, Sister Carrie seems to be a conventional novel in a nineteenth century mould, the story of a young woman who comes to the big city of Chicago to seek a life which is better than that of her upbringing. She stays with her sister while looking for work, at first in department stores but then in dressmakers after her lack of experience tells against her.

Things become decidedly more modern when Carrie is taken up by a fairly wealthy man, and goes to live with him as though they were married. She does this basically because her work is unfulfilling and her sister and brother in law dull to live with; Drouet offers her a greater freedom. In fact, Carrie spends the whole novel trying to find happiness by casting off the conventions of late nineteenth century American life.

Carrie's family are not very important in the novel; the title doesn't really refer to her relationship with her sister, who is hardly mentioned once she moves in with Drouet. Instead, I think it is inteded to say to the reader, "This could be your sister!" Carrie yearns to be free and to be happy, but she is forced into dull domesticity or boring uncongenial work if she remains within the conventional limits of respectable society. I don't know if this was Dreiser's intention, but to today's reader, Sister Carrie seems to be an early feminist novel.

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