Sister Carrie

Sister Carrie

3.5 14
by Theodore Dreiser, West James L. W.

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An eighteen-year-old girl without money or connections ventures forth from her small town in search of a better life in Theodore Dreiser's revolutionary first novel. The chronicle of Carrie Meeber's rise from obscurity to fame -- and the effects of her progress on the men who use her and are used in turn -- aroused a storm of controversy and debate upon its debut in…  See more details below


An eighteen-year-old girl without money or connections ventures forth from her small town in search of a better life in Theodore Dreiser's revolutionary first novel. The chronicle of Carrie Meeber's rise from obscurity to fame -- and the effects of her progress on the men who use her and are used in turn -- aroused a storm of controversy and debate upon its debut in 1900. The author's nonjudgmental portrait of a heroine who violates the contemporary moral code outraged some critics, including the book's publisher, Frank Doubleday, who tried to back out of the agreement his firm had made with Dreiser. But other readers were elated -- and a century later, Dreiser's compelling plot and realistic characters continue to fascinate readers.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review
We do not recommend the book to the fastidious reader, or the one who clings to old-fashioned ideas. It is a book one can very well do without reading. -- Books of the Century; New York Times review, May 1907

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
American Library
Product dimensions:
7.00(w) x 5.00(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

When Caroline Meeber boarded the afternoon train for Chicago, her total outfit consisted of a small trunk, a cheap imitation alligator-skin satchel, a small lunch in a paper box, and a yellow leather snap purse, containing her ticket, a scrap of paper with her sister's address in Van Buren Street, and four dollars in money. It was in August, 1889. She was eighteen years of age, bright, timid, and full of the illusions of ignorance and youth. Whatever touch of regret at parting characterised her thoughts, it was certainly not for advantages now being given up. A gush of tears at her mother's farewell kiss, a touch in her throat when the cars clacked by the flour mill where her father worked by the day, a pathetic sigh as the familiar green environs of the village passed in review, and the threads which bound her so lightly to girlhood and home were irretrievably broken.

To be sure there was always the next station, where one might descend and return. There was the great city, bound more closely by these very trains which came up daily. Columbia City was not so very far away, even once she was in Chicago. What, pray, is a few hours--a few hundred miles? She looked at the little slip bearing her sister's address and wondered. She gazed at the green landscape, now passing in swift review, until her swifter thoughts replaced its impression with vague conjectures of what Chicago might be.

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 worse. Of an intermediate balance, under the circumstances, there is no possibility. The city hasits cunning wiles, no less than the infinitely smaller and more human tempter. There are large forces which allure with all the soulfulness of expression possible in the most cultured human. The gleam of a thousand lights is often as effective as the persuasive light in a wooing and fascinating eye. Half the undoing of the unsophisticated and natural mind is accomplished by forces wholly superhuman. A blare of sound, a roar of life, a vast array of human hives, appeal to the astonished senses in equivocal terms. Without a counsellor at hand to whisper cautious interpretations, what falsehoods may not these things breathe into the unguarded ear! Unrecognised for what they are, their beauty, like music, too often relaxes, then weakens, then perverts the simpler human perceptions.

Caroline, or Sister Carrie, as she had been half affectionately termed by the family, was possessed of a mind rudimentary in its power of observation and analysis. Self-interest with her was high, but not strong. It was, nevertheless, her guiding characteristic. Warm with the fancies of youth, pretty with the insipid prettiness of the formative period, possessed of a figure promising eventual shapeliness and an eye alight with certain native intelligence, she was a fair example of the middle American class--two generations removed from the emigrant. Books were beyond her interest--knowledge a sealed book. In the intuitive graces she was still crude. She could scarcely toss her head gracefully. Her hands were almost ineffectual. The feet, though small, were set flatly. And yet she was interested in her charms, quick to understand the keener pleasures of life, ambitious to gain in material things. A half-equipped little knight she was, venturing to reconnoitre the mysterious city and dreaming wild dreams of some vague, far-off supremacy, which should make it prey and subject--the proper penitent, grovelling at a woman's slipper.

"That," said a voice in her ear, "is one of the prettiest little resorts in Wisconsin."

"Is it?" she answered nervously.

The train was just pulling out of Waukesha. For some time she had been conscious of a man behind. She felt him observing her mass of hair. He had been fidgetting, and with natural intuition she felt a certain interest growing in that quarter. Her maidenly reserve, and a certain sense of what was conventional under the circumstances, called her to forestall and deny this familiarity, but the daring and magnetism of the individual, born of past experiences and triumphs, prevailed. She answered.

He leaned forward to put his elbows upon the back of her seat and proceeded to make himself volubly agreeable.

"Yes, that is a great resort for Chicago people. The hotels are swell. You are not familiar with this part of the country, are you?"

"Oh, yes, I am," answered Carrie. "That is, I live at Columbia City. I have never been through here, though."

"And so this is your first visit to Chicago," he observed.

All the time she was conscious of certain features out of the side of her eye. Flush, colourful cheeks, a light moustache, a grey fedora hat. She now turned and looked upon him in full, the instincts of self-protection and coquetry mingling confusedly in her brain.

"I didn't say that," she said.

"Oh," he answered, in a very pleasing way and with an assumed air of mistake, "I thought you did."

Here was a type of the travelling canvasser for a manufacturing house--a class which at that time was first being dubbed by the slang of the day "drummers." He came within the meaning of a still newer term, which had sprung into general use among Americans in 1880, and which concisely expressed the thought of one whose dress or manners are calculated to elicit the admiration of susceptible young women--a "masher." His suit was of a striped and crossed pattern of brown wool, new at that time, but since become familiar as a business suit. The low crotch of the vest revealed a stiff shirt bosom of white and pink stripes. From his coat sleeves protruded a pair of linen cuffs of the same pattern, fastened with large, gold plate buttons, set with the common yellow agates known as "cat's-eyes." His fingers bore several rings--one, the ever-enduring heavy seal--and from his vest dangled a neat gold watch chain, from which was suspended the secret insignia of the Order of Elks. The whole suit was rather tight-fitting, and was finished off with heavy-soled tan shoes, highly polished, and the grey fedora hat. He was, for the order of intellect represented, attractive, and whatever he had to recommend him, you may be sure was not lost upon Carrie, in this, her first glance.

Lest this order of individual should permanently pass, let me put down some of the most striking characteristics of his most successful manner and method. Good clothes, of course, were the first essential, the things without which he was nothing. A strong physical nature, actuated by a keen desire for the feminine, was the next A mind free of any consideration of the problems or forces of the world and actuated not by greed, but an insatiable love of variable pleasure. His method was always simple. Its principal element was daring, backed, of course, by an intense desire and admiration for the sex. Let him meet with a young woman once and he would approach her with an air of kindly familiarity, not unmixed with pleading, which would result in most cases in a tolerant acceptance. If she showed any tendency to coquetry he would be apt to straighten her tie, or if she "took up" with him at all, to call her by her first name. If he visited a department store it was to lounge familiarly over the counter and ask some leading questions. In more exclusive circles, on the train or in waiting stations, he went slower. If some seemingly vulnerable object appeared he was all attention--to pass the compliments of the day, to lead the way to the parlor car, carrying her grip, or, failing that, to take a seat next her with the hope of being able to court her to her destination. Pillows, books, a footstool, the shade lowered; all these figured in the things which he could do. If, when she reached her destination he did not alight and attend her baggage for her, it was because, in his own estimation, he had signally failed.

A woman should some day write the complete philosophy of clothes. No matter how young, it is one of the things she wholly comprehends. There is an indescribably faint line in the matter of man's apparel which somehow divides for her those who are worth glancing at and those who are not. Once an individual has passed this faint line on the way downward he will get no glance from her. There is another line at which the dress of a man will cause her to study her own. This line the individual at her elbow now marked for Carrie. She became conscious of an inequality. Her own plain blue dress, with its black cotton tape trimmings, now seemed to her shabby. She felt the worn state of her shoes.

"Let's see," he went on, "I know quite a number of people in your town. Morgenroth the clothier and Gibson the dry goods man."

"Oh, do you?" she interrupted, aroused by memories of longings their show windows had cost her.

At last he had a clew to her interest, and followed it deftly. In a few minutes he had come about into her seat. He talked of sales of clothing, his travels, Chicago, and the amusements of that city.

"If you are going there, you will enjoy it immensely. Have you relatives?"

"I am going to visit my sister," she explained.

"You want to see Lincoln Park," he said, "and Michigan Boulevard. They are putting up great buildings there. It's a second New York--great. So much to see--theatres, crowds, fine houses--oh, you'll like that."

There was a little ache in her fancy of all he described. Her insignificance in the presence of so much magnificence faintly affected her. She realised that hers was not to be a round of pleasure, and yet there was something promising in all the material prospect he set forth. There was something satisfactory in the attention of this individual with his good clothes. She could not help smiling as he told her of some popular actress of whom she reminded him. She was not silly, and yet attention of this sort had its weight.

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What People are saying about this

Robert Penn Warren
Ultimately what shocked the world in Dreiser's work was not so much the things that he presented as the fact that he himself was not shocked by them.
H. L. Mencken
American writing, before and after Dreiser's time, differed almost as much as biology before and after Darwin.

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Sister Carrie 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the story of a young woman plagued by desire for a success she cannot fully understand or enjoy and the rather happenstance way she comes by it. The story is told with keen and absorbing psychological insight, but a psychology characterisitic of the period and Dreiser's ideas on Realism and what that entails. As an added bonus, the reader is given endless insight into the lifestyle, biases, expectations, and social rules of life in 1900's America: a bonus worth reading for. It is essential as well to read to the last sentence of the novel in order to fully appreciate Dreiser's world view and learn the fates of his characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is obvious that Dreiser understood the motivations of humans, by the mind and heart. My two favorite things about the book are that, one, you truly are on a journey with the characters as their personalities and situations morph with every chapter, and two, it is such a wonderful take on human life and perspective and how, sometimes, no matter what you say or don't say, what you do, or don't do, fate unravels itself in funny, unexpected ways. Simply ingenious, probably my second favorite book ever.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You were cheating on with a blackmoon...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Marhayter More than 1 year ago
No doubt about, this is one really good yarn.  It kept my interest throughout as the story unraveled.  A bit of a soap opera in parts, but you can't beat it for a great story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Sister Carrie is a tragic story by Theodore Dreiser of a girl who learns that materialism is an empty pursuit that only leads to unfulfilled dreams. The reader first meets Carrie as she travels from a small town to the endless ocean of possibilities that is Chicago. The book follows her ascent of the social ladder from poor factory worker in Chicago to respected actress in New York. The prose is filled figurative language and interesting diction and syntax, which make it easy to become absorbed in. The novel focuses on Carrie¿s emotional development rather than on plot development. This can make the plot slow at times, but teaches the reader the value of emotions and morals in a character. To those with loose morals, Sister Carrie may seem hypercritical as Dreiser condemns even the smallest moral infraction. The book does present insights about human nature including that because humans act on emotion they continually repeat their mistakes and compound their misfortunes. The first story of its kind, Sister Carrie ushered in a period of great American writing about the problems of the times, including the plight of the poor, materialism, social obligations, and others. The characters of Sister Carrie can be seen throughout literature in slightly different forms. The girl corrupted by the city, the idiotic wealthy who pay more than things are worth, and the naïve middle class constantly chasing wealth have become fixtures of American literature. Sister Carrie is at times hysterical, and at other times tear jerking, but it is the mixture that teaches valuable lessons and makes it a classic.
Guest More than 1 year ago
These paperback 'Thrift Editions' from Dover publications are a great way to collect classic titles at low prices!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Fascinating reading for someone unfamiliar with the 'zeitgeist' of America in 1900. This story captures a time when things were growing here and gives a historical window into the timeframe it encompasses. Carrie becomes her own woman, but she is not 'self-made' she is a product of her two lovers assistance and resolve. This was an interesting look into the life of a woman at this time. Not unlike Chopin's Awakening in that it chronicles an woman who asserts her independence!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have just finished reading Sister Carrie, and I must say I thoroughly enjoyed it. This is probably, and I am speaking as a someone from Europe, one of the best American novels ever written. The end is outstanding. A must.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is very boring and too dramatic. An example of it being too dramatic is when Carrie looks for work in the beginning. She is just so emotional when she is rejected by employers. It got a little better after that, but it was still boring.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In my opinion, Sister Carrie is a book of a young girl who mistakes richness for succsess and happiness. Carrie learned her lesson in the end when she was left all alone. Worst days for mr. hurstwood who killed himself because he was left broke and all the better days were gone. What Mr. hurstwood once had, dissapeared the day he cheated on his wife with Carrie.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A lot of what is written in this book is unnecessary. Do we really need to know the make of the clothing the peole wear. The only thing left out was the price. This reads more like a catlog and street guide to Chicago than it does a story. Take out half of the descriptions and there would be a much more effective novel.