In obvious ways Sister Carrie shares its subject matter with the newspaper. As it is well-known, the model for Sister Carrie’s main character is Dreiser’s sister Emma, who fled from Chicago to New York with her married lover after he stole money from the saloon where he worked. Dreiser based the character of Sister Carrie on family experience, but the novel’s origins are journalistic as well as personal.
The entire New York City section of Sister Carrie, with its dual emphasis on the glamorous world of the theatre and the miserable existence of the tramp, mirrors actual newspaper stories of both Broadway and the Bowery. Men similar to Hurstwood in his downward spiral could be easily found in the newspaper. Dreiser may have written an article about a trap who, like ...
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...dull, heavy labor,” West writes of the transplanted Midwesterner, “Their boredom becomes more and more terrible. They realize that they’ve been tricked and burn with resentment. Every day of their lives they read the newspapers and went to the movies. Both fed them on lynching, murder, sex crimes, explosions, wrecks, love nests, fires, miracles, revolutions, wars… They have been cheated and betrayed” (West 177-178). The riot at the gala premier at the end of the novel is their revenge on the false promises of movies.
Two very different stories written by men who let their life experience trace an imprint through the pages of their novels. Theodore Dreiser with the traces of the who, what, where, when and why of the newspaper reporter and Nathanael West with the traces of montage and dialogue of the screenwriter - both leaving their unending imprint as novelists.
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