The Protagonist in Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser Essay

The Protagonist in Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser Essay

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The picture of the protagonist that Theodore Dreiser’s novel, Sister Carrie, portrays is only a half-truth. By examining Sister Carrie’s character, she is readily deemed as passive, weak, and full of superficial desires and yet in this profoundly inert nature lies the seed for the greater expression of an artistic soul. However, this realization is only drawn out by Ames’s archetypically scholarly eyes (the intelligent but withdrawn engineer); bringing forth the powerful and intimate beauty that Carrie possesses, which without a photograph, the reader would forever remain blind to. Nevertheless, as Ames draws out the riches of Carrie’s humanity, he delineates yet another ideal, the ideal of the artist, which lies far away from the comfort that Carrie covets, and consequently forever constrains her happiness to the heights of her own longing—something that she has never surpassed. Accordingly, as Carrie progresses towards decadence she falls deeper into alienation and loneliness, and through Ames, towards even greater passivity.
The novel steadfastly and in detail presents Carrie’s associations with her two lovers, Drouet and Hurstwood, citing her interactions with them as basis for her character. Hence, the idea develops that she is a weak and passive woman, guided only by a desire to attain an affluent life, where “self interest” is “her guiding characteristic” (p2). In other words, a personality that borders on the pathetic. What little individuality and uniqueness she exhibits as a young woman in search of work in the vast, ruthless city, quickly succumbs to the stylish wealth and passion of the two men. This takes no effort on the part of Drouet, where with his fine clothes and speech, instantly impresses on “her a dim world ...


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...d mouth,” or especially to witness her on the stage and see our own yearning reflected back at us from this small, timid form, would the reading of Carrie’s lonely rise be more agreeable (p116, p384). If we were granted but a glimpse of this lovely figure with her sad eyes then we would attain a deeper understanding, but as it is, we must rely on the vision of Ames to perceive a deeper poetic quality in her. Fittingly, we leave Sister Carrie at the end of the novel, once again heightened to a higher part of life, but no closer to this than ever before, condemned by the narrator to the static life of her “rocking chair by [the] window,” where “dreaming shall you long, alone. In your rocking chair, by your window shall you dream such happiness as you shall never feel” (p400).





Works Cited

Dreiser, Theodore, and E. L. Sister Carrie. Bantam Classics, 1982. Print.

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