The theme of unrequited love and unfulfilled ambitions, against a backdrop of a nation being transformed by industrialism and capitalism, provides the substance of Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie. During the late 19th Century we encounter three main characters who demonstrate this underlying motif: Carrie Meeber, Charles H. Drouet, and George W. Hurstwood. Carrie will fulfill many of her desires for riches and success, but her insatiable appetite will leave her feeling dissatisfied at the end of the novel and all alone. With respect to the two men who most covet her affections, Charles Drouet and George Hurstwood we have a study in contrasts. About the only thing Drouet and Hurstwood have in common is that they both desire Carrie's love. Both Drouet and Hurstwood love Carrie, but Drouet is a materialist and Hurstwood is a romanticist - a fact that will enable Drouet to survive the loss of Carrie as Hurstwood commits suicide over the loss.
From early in the novel we see Drouet established as a representative of the new America - industrialism, capitalism, and nouveau riche successes. When Carrie meets Drouet on the train, his manners and fine dress impress her but they are only a cover for an identity that believes he needs to impress others to be successful. In other words, Drouet's manners and attitudes are put on like so many new clothes, discarded when they no longer fit his purposes. However, it is exactly these superficial qualities that impress Carrie Meeber, a young woman on her way to Chicago to make her way in the world. Carrie eventually succumbs to the clothes, money, and housing Drouet lavishes on her, but it is her desires and his money that unite them ...
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... to escape the reality of their lives through material pursuits. Hurstwood cannot do so and as a result succumbs to this inability in the face of such heartaches and losses.
Eby, C. V. Cultural and historical contexts in Sister Carrie. Univ. of Pennsylvania Library. Available: http://www. library.upenn.edu/special/dreiser/scculhist.html, 2001: 1-5.
Moers, E. The Blizzard. In Sister Carrie. Edited by Donald Pizer, (2nd edit.). New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1991: 525-533.
Dreiser, T. Sister Carrie. Edited by Donald Pizer, (2nd edit.). New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1991.
Warren, R. P. Sister Carrie. In Sister Carrie. Edited by Donald Pizer, (2nd edit.). New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1991: 534-542.
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