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Sister Carrie (Enriched Classics Series)
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Sister Carrie (Enriched Classics Series)

3.7 16
by Theodore Dreiser

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Carrie Meeber leaves her home in rural Wisconsin for big-city life in Chicago, and faces a series of struggles — professional, moral, and romantic — before achieving success in the New York theater scene.


  • A concise introduction that gives the reader important
  • background


Carrie Meeber leaves her home in rural Wisconsin for big-city life in Chicago, and faces a series of struggles — professional, moral, and romantic — before achieving success in the New York theater scene.


  • A concise introduction that gives the reader important
  • background information
  • A chronology of the author's life and work
  • A timeline of significant events that provides the book's
  • historical context
  • An outline of key themes and plot points to guide the reader's
  • own interpretations
  • Detailed explanatory notes
  • Critical analysis, including contemporary and modern
  • perspectives on the work
  • Discussion questions to promote lively classroom and book
  • group interaction
  • A list of recommended related books and films to broaden
  • the reader's experience

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

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Enriched Classics Series
Edition description:
Enriched Classic
Product dimensions:
4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Sister Carrie:
A Dramatic Story of Real Life Choices

A young woman takes the train to Chicago in search of workv in 1889, thus setting in motion a chain of events that will lead her to fame and fortune in New York's glittering theater world. While the plot of Sister Carrie may sound like a fairy tale, Theodore Dreiser was actually trying to write a work of literary realism. He filled the pages of the novel, first published in 1900, with the harsh details of everyday life, and generated controversy for the veiled but potent depiction of Carrie's sexual experiences with the dapper traveling salesman and the "respectable" saloon manager, who both try to seduce her.

The story of Dreiser's Carrie resembles that of the melodramatic "damsel in distress," especially when she realizes that sin may be her only option for survival. And yet there was one aspect of melodrama that Dreiser purposely left out of Sister Carrie: Carrie neither agonizes over her choices, nor expresses regret for her actions. In fact, at times it seems she is not even aware that she is acting badly. Dreiser emphasizes that Carrie acts as she does simply because she wants to be comfortable. Perhaps even more scandalously, Dreiser's novel implies that most people, if faced with the same choices Carrie faces, would do exactly the same.

It was a shocking message. Americans had read tales of "fallen women" before, but they were hesitant to embrace fiction that showed people acting immorally without any kind of consequence. (Consider that, up until the mid-1960s, films made in the United State were governed by a production code requiring films to portray immoral behavior with a tone of disapproval, emphasizing its undesirability.) Fueled by his background as an urban reporter, Dreiser felt that literature that bound itself to upholding moral standards was dissatisfying. He wrote Sister Carrie to defy such standards and to offer readers a glimpse of how Americans living and toiling in the rapidly expanding urban industrial centers really lived. Inspired by the true-life story of his own sister, Emma Dreiser, who had made Chicago headlines when she ran away with a married man, Dreiser wrote Sister Carrie to make a statement about what literature was for.

Though realism was becoming more popular as a style at the time, Dreiser's particular version of realistic fiction initially won few fans. Aware that he might have trouble finding a publisher, Dreiser cut his manuscript substantially, following the suggestions of a well-meaning friend and editor, Arthur Henry. Even so, the press that agreed to print the novel later tried to recant its offer. Though an agreement was reached, the publisher released only a limited number of copies, fearing scandal. In recent years, literary scholars have attempted to restore the text to its original condition, publishing "unexpurgated" editions. The edition included here, however, shows what readers found when they opened the novel in 1900, and what Dreiser himself continued to reissue during his lifetime. It is a text that both reflects and challenges the standards of a turn-of-the-century audience.

The Life and Work of Theodore Dreiser

Dreiser came to his career as a novelist slowly. The child of a German-Catholic immigrant father and a German-American mother, Dreiser was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1871. He grew up in a large family that struggled with poverty and drifted apart, moving in and out of the booming city of Chicago. Dreiser's older sisters had affairs and out-of-wedlock children that would inspire the stories of "immoral" women in the author's later work. After dropping out of school, he slowly found his way to work as a reporter, taking jobs with newspapers in Chicago, St. Louis, Toledo, Pittsburgh, and finally New York, where he became interested in documenting the kind of urban poverty his own family had endured. Dreiser would later reflect that reading the philosophy of evolution-oriented Herbert Spencer at a Pittsburgh public library in 1894 shattered the Catholic ideals with which he had been raised, creating his interest in writing literature that examined what, if not God, accounted for human action and social development. Though often inspired by true-life events, his work was not portraiture but instead dramatization that considered fundamental questions about human behavior.

The failure of Sister Carrie upon its initial publication proved emotionally devastating for Dreiser. Despite the support of his wife, Sara White, who had helped him to edit the novel, Dreiser sank into a depression. His older brother Paul, who took the last name "Dresser" during his rise to fame as a popular songwriter, gave Dreiser the money to stay at a sanatorium, where he recovered his health. For a while, he tried to earn his living by catering to more popular taste, taking on work as an editor and writer for popular publications. He and his wife separated, and Dreiser took part in a number of scandalous affairs, including one that cost him a lucrative job as an editor at a publishing company.

This ended up being the push he needed to reinitiate his work in fiction, and before his death in 1945, he would write seven more novels. The first of these, Jennie Gerhardt, was published in 1911, eleven years after Sister Carrie. It drew from another sister's experiences, taking as its subject a young woman who has borne the illegitimate child of a prominent man. Dreiser's later novels, including the wellknown An American Tragedy (1925), continued to employ provocative story lines, and his work was often the target of obscenity charges. Sympathetic to the plight of the working class in which he was raised, Dreiser joined the Communist Party shortly before his death. His work grew in stature, and he died a famous writer.

Historical and Literary Context of Sister Carrie

Toward an Urban Consumer Society

Readers see the impact of Chicago's and New York's modernization in Sister Carrie through Carrie's adjustment from small-town life to the fast pace of a big city. She suffers through an intense job search, hoping to find work that will enable her to afford the material temptations she discovers on the shelves of a new American institution: the department store. Americans of this era were, like Carrie, severing their ties to a "homemade" agrarian past, becoming instead consumers in an industrial economy and experiencing what Dreiser calls the "drag of desire" for mass-produced goods.

Both Carrie's temptations and her limited ability to satisfy her desires testify to the particular circumstances faced by a young single woman during this era of change. While Carrie is able to find factory work upon her arrival in Chicago, it is worth noting that women gained access into unsafe and hostile factory workplaces precisely because they could be paid less than men. They had little choice but to accept such conditions: they might hope for life as a wife and mother, but this is an option in which Carrie, having observed her older sister's experiences, is quick to see limitations. And many women, such as those who had recently immigrated to the United States, as well as African Americans, expected to toil for pay as well as in the home, regardless of their marital status. For women who could not secure even low-paying factory work, prostitution served as a last resort.

The urban life that dazzles Carrie, with its horse-drawn streetcars and dressed-up theatergoers, may seem quaint or old-fashioned to readers today. But Dreiser's contemporaries likely viewed his urban settings as seedy and threatening, a reputation upheld by other writers in this era. Ten years before Sister Carrie was published, Jacob Riis published his shocking collection of documentary photographs of immigrants to New York, How the Other Half Lives. Stephen Crane's Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, published under a pseudonym and amid controversy in 1893, also portrayed gritty urban life, examining in particular its consequences for women. Dreiser took the portrayal of the city's underside in a slightly different direction, toward the consciousness of the people who lived there, without moral judgment or pleadings for sympathy.

History-oriented readers of Sister Carrie will likely note that Dreiser's urban settings are the very ones that attracted Progressive reformers like Jane Addams, who sought to remedy the harsh conditions of urban life through exposing political corruption, enacting protective labor legislation, or creating reform homes for "wayward" women. And those familiar with the women's rights movement of the era will see in Carrie's limited options the incentives for the Suffrage Amendment, for which women labored until it finally passed in 1920. But Dreiser's work can be better understood as a tribute to the common people of this era of change, rather than a rallying cry on their behalf.


Dreiser's approach to writing has rightfully earned him a place in the school of American naturalism. This style emerged in the United States in the late 1800s, inspired by French realism, and placed an emphasis on a depiction of life as a natural process. Some writers, such as Jack London, took this style in the direction of "wilderness tales" aimed at showing man's place within the basest laws of nature. Others, like Stephen Crane and Frank Norris, extended the laws of the animal kingdom to an urban setting.

A simple characterization of naturalistic literature is that it attempts to demonstrate "survival of the fittest," a phrase coined by philosopher Herbert Spencer (who was much admired by Dreiser) and associated with evolutionary scientist Charles Darwin. Like "Social Darwinists," who justified cutthroat business competition with the theory of evolution, literary naturalists applied the theory to the contemporary urban world. Sister Carrie, however, focuses less on animalistic survival strategies than on a consideration of how the natural, random forces of the universe may impact humans more than the ideal of civilization praised so highly by Victorian writers. Dreiser hoped simply to explore such randomness, while other naturalistic writers took a more political approach. Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel, The Jungle, for example, protested conditions faced by the immigrant workers in Chicago's meatpacking plants. Dreiser avoided such direct preaching; in fact, didactic literature, which perpetuates old-fashioned morality even when its characters stray from it, formed the precedent he most hoped to break.

Dreiser also shared his literary era with a tradition of women's fiction in which writers like Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Kate Chopin, and Edith Wharton sought to create "whole" women characters whose situations inspired examination of gender inequality. The plot of Sister Carrie allows for such feminist analysis but doesn't necessarily invite it. Indeed, Dreiser's asides about "the nature of women," sprinkled throughout the novel, illustrate his comfort with confining women like Carrie to a secondary sphere. Her eventual success in the theater does not liberate her; in fact, in some respects, Dreiser's portrayal of Carrie reinforced nineteenth-century assumptions about women's need for protection.

In his acceptance of such gender roles, Dreiser may be considered old-fashioned. And yet he broke new ground, rebelling against the kind of sentimental, melodramatic novels and plays that Carrie reads and acts in over the course of the novel: no one is "rescued" here, and no one is damned. In this shying away from moralism, Sister Carrie may be best understood as a novel about change and the tensions it unleashes, both in everyday life and in the world of literature. Supplementary materials copyright © 2008 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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.

Meet the Author

Theodore Dreiser, one of the principal exponents of naturalism in American literature, was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, on August 27, 1871, into a large family of German ancestry. He endured a rootless upbringing as his parents moved their ten children to different towns in search of employment. Along the way Dreiser received an erratic education in various parochial and public schools; he read voraciously from an early age and was largely self-taught. He began his writing career in 1892 as a cub reporter for the Chicago Daily Globe, an experience he recalled in A Book About Myself (1922; republished as Newspaper Days in 1931), and later wrote for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and the Pittsburgh Dispatch. His years as a journalist proved instrumental in developing the exhaustively detailed style that is the hallmark of his fiction. In 1894 Dreiser arrived in New York City and became editor of Ev'ry Month, a moderately successful literary magazine. Encouraged by a publishing colleague, he turned out short stories and entertained thoughts about writing a novel.

In October 1899 Dreiser inscribed two words—'Sister Carrie'—on a clean sheet of paper and proceeded to compose a breakthrough work that propelled American literature into the twentieth century. 'I have found a masterpiece . . . it must be published,' said Frank Norris, a reader for Doubleday, Page and Company, to whom Dreiser submitted the manuscript. (The firm had just brought out Norris's novel McTeague, another unretouched picture of American life.) Despite the strong objections of senior partner Frank Doubleday, who detested the book and refused to promote it, Sister Carrie waspublished on November 8, 1900. The reviews were violently adverse, and the novel sold poorly. Genteel readers perceived the unsparing story of Caroline Meeber's rise to riches as a direct affront to the standards by which respectable Americans claimed to live.

'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,' observed Robert Penn Warren.

The commercial failure of Sister Carrie forced Dreiser to abandon fiction temporarily, and over the next decade he occupied editorial positions on several popular magazines. With the encouragement of H. L. Mencken, one of his most persistent defenders and promoters, Dreiser eventually resumed writing. His second novel, Jennie Gerhardt, was both a commercial and a popular success when it appeared in 1911, though many regarded this frank story about the sexual experiences of a young girl as a threat to moral standards. After its publication Dreiser pledged all of his creative energy to literature, writing The Financier (1912), a story about the rise of an unscrupulous tycoon, which became the first book in a trilogy that included The Titan (1914) and The Stoic (1947).

Dreiser's next novel, The 'Genius' (1915), a highly autobiographical work portraying the artist as Nietzschean superman who lives beyond conventional moral codes, was threatened with censorship. The successful campaign to save it from suppression proved a pivotal victory in the fight for American literary freedom. During this period Dreiser also wrote two engaging memoirs, A Traveler at Forty (1913) and A Hoosier Holiday (1916); a compendium of philosophical essays, Hey Rub-a-Dub-Dub (1920); two volumes of drama, Plays of the Natural and the Supernatural (1916) and The Hand of the Potter (1919); as well as several collections of short stories, sketches, and articles, including Free and Other Stories (1918), Twelve Men (1919), and The Color of a Great City (1923).

The publication of An American Tragedy in 1925 established Dreiser as the foremost American novelist of his time. Based on newspaper accounts of a sensational murder case, the work was dramatized on Broadway and sold to Paramount Pictures, which released a film version in 1931. Yet afterward Dreiser virtually abandoned the novel as an art form. He composed two books of poetry, Moods, Cadenced and Declaimed (1926) and The Aspirant (1929). He also wrote Chains (1927), a second volume of short stories, and A Gallery of Women (1929), a collection of biographical sketches. Dawn, another work of autobiography, came out in 1931.

Dreiser became increasingly preoccupied with philosophical and political issues during the last two decades of his life. Two volumes of essays, Dreiser Looks at Russia (1928) and Tragic America (1932), reflect his growing involvement with socialism. America Is Worth Saving (1941), the last book Dreiser published during his lifetime, announced his complete conversion to Communism. In 1944, the year before his death, he was honored with an Award of Merit by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Theodore Dreiser died of a heart attack at his home in Hollywood on December 28, 1945. His two last novels, The Bulwark (1946) and The Stoic (1947), appeared soon afterward, along with The Best Short Stories of Theodore Dreiser (1947).

Several works drawn from Dreiser's unpublished papers and diaries appeared in later years, notably Letters of Theodore Dreiser (1959), Theodore Dreiser: A Selection of Uncollected Prose (1977), American Diaries, 1902-1926 (1982), and An Amateur Laborer (1983). Three volumes of his early journalism were also issued posthumously: Selected Magazine Articles of Theodore Dreiser (1985), Journalism, Volume One (1988), and Theodore Dreiser's 'Heard in the Corridors' Articles and Related Writings (1988).

'Dreiser more than any other man, marching alone, usually unappreciated, often hated, has cleared the trail from Victorian timidity and gentility in American fiction to honesty and boldness and passion of life,' concluded Sinclair Lewis.

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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.
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.
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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
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.
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You were cheating on with a blackmoon...
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago