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Sister Carrie, written by Theodore Dreiser, is a tale of Carrie, who comes to Chicago to somehow make the money she has always dreamed of having. In pursuit of the material possessions and success she dreams of, she involves herself with two different characters, Drouet and Hurstwood. She eventually finds herself in New York, where she has a successful performing career. Even with all the success and material possessions she has attained do not bring her happiness. Due to naturalism and pre-existing conditions between Carrie and Hurstwood, human interactions in exchange for materialism lead to the downfall of the two characters.
Early in the text, it is evident that Carrie has an excessive greed for things such as clothing and money. Upon meeting Drouet, she immediately is blinded to the advantages he can bring her, such as expensive and beautiful clothing. Carrier soon realized all the city had to offer her, such as "wealth, fashion, ease every adornment for women, and she longed for dress and beauty with a whole heart" (Dreiser, 21). Carrie is aroused by "something promising in all the material prospect" that Drouet had to offer (Dreiser, 5). While her background does subconsciously caution her momentarily, she ignores her misgivings in exchange for the happiness that Drouet's success might bring her. The same things that entice Carrie to Drouet also entice her to Hurstwood.
Perhaps it is safe to say that Carrie came to Chicago in pursuit of the American Dream because of "the drag of a lean and narrow life" (Dreiser, 11). The exchange of her life from dull Wisconsin to Chicago signifies her chase of a better and more fulfilling life. The realization that her life was still "the drag of a lean and narrow life" (Dreiser, 11) hampered Carrie's hope for the American Dream. Carrie was determined to not be "a common shop-girl" (Dreiser, 51). Once Drouet gives Carrie money, he dominates her life because she loves what he possesses. His possessions are Carrie's ultimate dream and goal in life.
Carrie allows other characters in the story to determine her fate and guide her actions. While Carrie is unaware of it, her relationship with Drouet sets up a pattern that drives her relationship with him and other men.
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Hurstwood's upper-class appearance impresses Carrie. Although Hurstwood is married, Carrie seems almost ignorant to the possibility of it due to the lifestyle he lives. The downfall of Hurstwood begins when Carrie realizes that he is married. In response, Carrie decides she wants nothing to do with him since he is married. Hustwood falls in integrity when he steals money. He steals the money to impress Carrie who is aroused by success. Hurstwood is successful in getting Carrie to leave Chicago and move to New York with him. Carrie's decision to do so signifies the downward spiral her life is in since the beginning of her pursuit for money.
Money and success soon fail in New York and Carrie feels dissatisfied as a result. Although Carrie herself now is successful in her career, Hurstwood's evolving failure shows that "her experience in Chicago proved that she had not tried the right way" Dreiser, 339). Carrie tried to become successful through the wrong means in life. Carrie's need for clothing and fancy "ornaments" was not longer being satisfied as it had before. Maybe Hurstwood fails in New York because he expects everything to fall into place and work out for him as it did in Chicago.
Once Carrie leaves Hurstwood, he becomes depressed of the fact that Carrie was going into "a realm which became more imposing as it receded from him" (Dreiser, 419). Carrie was becoming successful as Hurstwood was slowly becoming homeless. Despite the success found in Carrie's performing career, it does not bring her happiness. In the end Carrie considers her sense that there is more to life than what she has so far experienced.
Economic forces presented in the novel allow both Carrie and Hustwood to fall in given circumstances. In exchange for the goods Carrie has or wants, she has nothing to give. The money she earns from the factory proves to never be able to keep up with her desires. Once again, the economic forces took over her when Drouet gave her money. Carrie finds a way to capital on her desires. She feels that Hurstfood is a trade upward and can possibly offer better material conditions.
Perhaps the fall of both Carrie and Hurstwood is a cautionary tale of what happens when someone condenses all human interactions to the exchange for capital. In such as situation, such as Sister Carrie, all emotional and physical relationships are reduced to tradable possessions. As a result, a depressing picture of fallen society remains.