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It was 1889; Carrie Meeber, an eighteen-year-old girl, was boarding a train from Columbia City to start a new life with her sister and her family in Chicago. Columbia City was a small town that did not have much to offer to anyone who wanted to make something of themselves. But in Chicago Carrie believed she would be able to find work and get good money. Chicago, in 1889, had the peculiar qualifications of growth, which made such adventuresome pilgrimages even on the part of young girls plausible1.
When a girl leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse2. Once Carrie arrived in Chicago and settled in with her sister and her husband she started to see that living in Chicago was not going to be as easy as she thought. She had to get a job and pay rent, not to mention buy the things that she wished to.
Most women stayed at home to take care of her children, make meals, keep house, and to care for the sick in the late nineteenth century3. Only five percent of married women held jobs outside the home in 19004. But some did go out looking for work in order to help their family out as much as possible with their bills. Carrie wanted to go out and make something of herself.
Trying to find a job was a difficult task in itself. "Well, we prefer young women just now with some experience. I guess we can't use you."5 Carrie heard this over and over again. Until finally finding a job that paid her three and a half-dollars a week working in a shoe factory. This was a grueling task working with leather non-stop in a hot stuffy overpopulated room. After becoming sick she lost her job at the shoe factory and so later on her very good friend Drouet got her a part in a theatrical performance at a Lodge.
Theaters were a big thing at the time for entertainment. Many middle class people would go and see a matinee maybe once a week to have some fun. At this time in the late 1900's there wasn't much for people to do at night and on weekends except for staying at home.
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Another thing that was growing in the cities at this time was department stores. This was definitely a good thing for women. It gave them the chance to buy nice things instead of wearing old, dingy things that they have had for years. "Her woman's heart was warm with desire for them6." Getting to wear nice clothes was important to women at this time. They were starting to make a name for themselves and wanted to be respected.
I think the author, Theodore Dreiser, was very clear with what he was trying to write about in this novel. He wanted to show that women could succeed in anything they set their heart on. Even in the work force. He shoed the hardships that women had to face every day, not only with finding jobs but also on how men treated them. It was almost like women could not do anything without a man's help.
This I found a little bias in his writing. Everything that Carrie did or where ever she went it was always because of a man. She left her sister to move into her own house because of her friend Drouet. And she left Drouet to move to Canada and eventually New York with Hurstwood. But in everything they did for her she seemed to take it and leave. It was almost if they were not good enough for her.
But all in this entire entire novel follow the way history went in these days. He clearly showed how hard it was for women at this time to find work or even work that was suitable and healthy for them at a good paying price. The dawn of the century saw the rise of a new generation of women. Longer lived, better educated, and less often married than their mothers, they were also willing to pursue careers for fulfillment. They would often turn to professions that involved the traditional role of a nurturer7. And this was exactly how Carrie lived, she became and actress and did this to fulfill what she wanted out of life not for what others wanted for her.
Dreiser also showed that strikes were not uncommon in cities or anywhere in the country for that matter. "Strikes Spreading in Brooklyn." "Rioting Breaks Out in all Parts of the City8." Strikes were going on because workers could no longer take the conditions they had to work under and they did not like that they were not getting paid well.
The one thing that Dreiser did not mention at all with Carrie was she was never pressured into having children. As Americans left the countryside for the city, and as the old artisan system of manufacture declined, large numbers of children usually became a hindrance rather than an aid to the family's economic well being9. Carrie had no time for children plus the way her lifestyle was a child would not have been the best thing. She never really loved any of the men she was with.
Over all I must say that Dreiser did a very good job in creating an atmosphere of how people lived in the late nineteenth century early twentieth. He did not stereotype people or criticize them. He just showed it how it was. I found this book to be very good not only in the story line but also the way he put it along the historical way of living at the moment in history. I would also say the reason for this book being so good was because it was originally written in 1901 not too far off from the time period he was writing about.
Elliot J. Gorn and Randy Roberts, Constructing the American Past (New York: Longman, 1999)
James West Davidson and Mark H. Lytle, Nation of Nations (Boston: McGraw Hill, 1998)
Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (New York: The Modern Library, 1927)
1Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (New York: The Modern Library, 1927), 16.
2 Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (New York: The Modern Library, 1927), 2
3 James West Davidson and Mark H. Lytle, Nation of Nations (Boston: McGraw Hill, 1998), 765.
4 James West Davidson and Mark H. Lytle, Nation of Nations (Boston: McGraw Hill, 1998), 624.
5 Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (New York: The Modern Library, 1927), 25.
6 Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (New York: The Modern Library, 1927), 75.
7 James West Davidson and Mark H. Lytle, Nation of Nations (Boston: McGraw Hill, 1998), 765.
8 Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (New York: The Modern Library, 1927), 473.
9 Elliot J. Gorn and Randy Robert, Constructing the American Past (New York: Longman, 1999), 111.