Monday, November 07, 2005

Some comments on Sister Carrie

1. Carrie likes nice stuff - clothes, jewelry, furniture, houses. She's not a "material girl" in the way we think of that term now, i.e., gathering stuff seemingly just for stuff's sake or measuring a person's value just by how much stuff she or he owns. Rather, Carrie likes nice stuff compared to being being destitute, having nothing, or barely enough to scrape by even after working 50 hours a week. After living with Drouett, Carrie passes some of her peers from the shoe factory, a job she lost to sickness. She compares her nice clothes (from Drouett) with the threadbare, unflattering garments the shopgirls are wearing. She doesn't want to revert to that condition. The world's a nicer place when your clothier is Ann Taylor or LL Bean rather than Dollar General or the Salvation Army thrift store. Carrie is torn about her relationship and dependence on Drouett, but she can't bear the thought of slipping back to a marginal existence under brutal employment. Would you? The desire and struggle for comfort is a critical drive with Drieser's characters; sometimes, it's all-consuming and it skews direction and blinds choices. For Carrie, a pathway opened up. She looked for an alternative, there wasn't any.

2. George Hurstwood's fate is interesting, and I don't think entirely plausible. As noted, he manages a bar/nightclub called Hanna & Hoggs and it is one of the places in Chicago. In Chicago, George is the man about town: he's at the theatre, the clubs, the restaurants, he's a glad-hander, he's generous, he's gracious and handsome and sends flowers and buys people drinks. But after moving to New York, George falters, his life slips into a slow, irreversible decline. Why? Why couldn't he become a first-class schmoozer like in Chicago? Some questions: Just what did George do prior to getting his manager's job? Did he just luck into that? He didn't own H&H. Apparently whatever his resume, it wasn't much good in New York. (Of course, there is the matter of the stolen $10,000 - but he did return most of that...) George is attractive and successful in Chicago just because he was lucky? External to such fortunate placement he was a loser. Not sure what all this means, or if it's entirely realistic.

3. Final comment on Carrie - she was completely unformed as a character. She was pushed and pulled with little resistance. She didn't think for herself. She sat in her rocking chair. Obviously, this was deliberate on Dreiser's part. I liken her to a stem cell - she could become anything, but there was very little to set her in one direction or another.

If you have any thoughts on Hurstwood's demise, I hope you'll respond.

[Still reading the short stories...]

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