A Review of Societal Changes in Sister Carrie, a Novel by Theodore Dreiser

Theodore Dreiser is an American novelist that witness the era of enormous industrial change in America. It picture the lives of the poor is society because Dreiser had experienced poverty both as a child and an adult, he depict the lives of the rich as he was journalist who was everyday in close contact with event of people life. Sister Carrie, one of his novels that represent the struggle of the poor girl who find her way up the social scale.

Carrie is the protagonist of the story who lives in an industrial and commoditized society in which people find their identity in items of consumption. Carrie as a young woman whose attachment to her family is faint, she decided to leave her small town home to the city of Chicago. The declared purpose of this journey is Carrie’s need to find work. The year Dreiser assigns to Carrie’s migration is 1889, and her search for labor in the closest major city reflects a national trend, as glimpsed in the titles of contemporaneous texts, such as the U.

S. Bureau of Labor’s Working Women in Large Cities(1888) and the Massachusetts Bureau of Labor’s The Working Girls of Boston (1889). In 1890, one year after Dreiser imagines Carrie’s arrival in Chicago, women made up seventeen percent of the national labor force, with women between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four forming the largest proportion of this group.

When Carrie left her home at age of eighteen, its hard to predict where she is going or what she is going to face.

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She might meet people that can help her to reach her dream or she quickly assume that cosmopolitan standard of virture become worse. when Carrie arrived in Chicago and settled in with her sister and her husband she began to notice that living in Chicago was not going to be as easy as she thought. She had to find a job and pay rent, also buy the things that she wished to. In the late nineteenth century most women stayed at home without jobs to take care of her children, make meals, keep house, and to care for the sick. in 1900 Only five percent of married women held jobs outside the home but some women were trying to look for work to help their family out as much as they could with their bills. Carrie wanted to leave her home with a ambition to be a better person. finding 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. Carrie heard this a lot of times until finally she got a job in a shoes factory that paid her three and a half-dollars a week.

This was a exhausting 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 find her a place in a theatrical performance at a Lodge. Theaters had a huge effect at the time for entertainment. Many middle class people would see a performance maybe once a week to have some fun. At this time in the late 1900’s there wasn’t many activity that people can do at night or on weekends except for staying at home. Theater existence gave them the chance to go outside home and enjoy their time with their friends.

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 them.” 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.

it would seem that Carrie, while outwardly benign, and possibly even deserving of her portrayal as sweet and innocent at the beginning, soon emerges as a ruthless predator in the guise of a helpless woman. From her relationship with Drouet, she manages to gain the experience and social skills to pursue higher aspirations. She seems to stay with Drouet only long enough to see that better things are available, comforts more extravagant than Drouet can provide, and cultural experiences and social nuances whose existence Drouet seems unaware of. Drouet, then, acts as a stepping stone for her. When he no longer has anything he can offer her, she drops him in favor of Hurstwood. In Hurstwood, Carrie sees all that lacks in Drouet–a more acute sense of culture and worldliness, and the wealth to explore the new wonders of civilized Chicago life. Carrie didn’t know what to expect when she got together with Drouet. She loved the wealth and money, and believed she loved Drouet. After a while she began to realize that she really didn’t love him.

But she thought that marriage would be a guarantee against losing his affection and generosity. Hurstwood serves as yet another step in her ladder to success, and when he sinks into poverty and self-disgrace after his divorce, she sees him as a no longer being an asset, and leaves him in favor of striking out on her own, leaving him to turn into a beggar, while she makes it big.

Too, after she makes it big, and Drouet comes to see her, she can no longer see him as a friend worthy of her company, and in fact avoids ever seeing him again. The fact that she owes her success to Drouet and Hurstwood seems inconsequential to her. It would seem also at the end of her road to fame, when she is receiving social invitations from millionaires and famous figures, that she sees herself as being too good for any of them; she sees herself as being too good for the company of any man. This aggressive, self-centered nature seems to be a departure from the traditional role of a woman in such a novel.

In contrast Peiss describes the class perceptions of New Yorkers at the turn of the (twentieth) century. She says that they would generally have seen the “population as split into two classes, typified by the ostentatious mansions of Fifth Avenue,” which still exist today, “and the squalid tenement slums of Mulberry Bend,” which now probably cost proportionally as much as those Fifth Avenue mansions” (11). To look more closely at those on the lower end of the class scale, Peiss considered studies of income at the time. Between 1903 and 1909, these families of between four and six earned about $800 annually or $15 weekly. The same problems of very high urban rents and food existed then as do today, so these families had little disposable income (12). As a result, all the family members worked, including unmarried daughters. So, these working families had little time for leisure. Those families who earned $17 or more every week made “inexpensive excursions and theater trips” as well as “occasional treats” such as a visit to “the amusement resorts at Coney Island or Fort George once or twice a summer” (13). Peiss explains, the “husband comes home at night, has his dinner, and goes out with the ‘men,’ or sits at home to read his paper. Even when unemployed […] men never stayed home but went to play cards at the union hall” (16). The women were likely to have more work to do, such as preparing the food for the picnic or taking extra care that the children looked their most presentable for being shown off at the park. If the husband’s paycheck was to be used for leisure, it had to be after he used it for what he wanted. In other words, men would spend “the bulk of it on beer and liquor, tobacco, and movie and theater tickets” for themselves and then if anything was left over, the family could use it for things like food and clothing for the children and rent (23). When women began to have jobs that supported the growing mercantile industry in New York, they had power in a way that they had not seen before. Peiss tells about saleswomen being able to use their sales skills both to increase revenues as well as to “manipulate managers, supervisors, and customers, enforcing work rules among the women to sell only so many goods each day and employing code words to warn co-workers of recalcitrant customers” (46). This demonstrates a kind of power that must have been impossible among domestic workers. Similarly, Peiss describes cooperation among women bookbinders who “employed the notion of a “fair day’s work,’ controlling the output during each stint, while other factor hands orchestrated work stoppages and job actions over such issues as sexual harassment and pay cuts” (46). She also tells of waitresses who “worked out their resentment toward employers by pilfering pins and small objects, supplying themselves liberally with ice water and towels, and eating desserts ordered for imaginary customers” (46). The “work cultures” of the women depended on where they worked as well as on their own cultural traditions. Women who were born in America tended to behave more like men at work “believing in self-education and uplift.” Peiss gives the example of a cigar factory where “female trade unionists would pay one of their members to read aloud while they worked: ‘First the newspaper is read, then some literary work”” (47). But also within a certain industry, the varying cultural and ethnic traditions might predict or give certain groups of women strength to behave a certain way or prevent them from behaving another way.

For example, “Jewish waist-makers” were prepared to “organize and strike,” whereas “their more hesitant Italian workmates” were far less inclined to do so (47). Most important about all these phenomena was that the working women came to develop their own unique traditions, separate from those of their families and ethic groups. They mixed in social groups without regard for religion or ethnicity, which apparently did not happen otherwise (48). When these women worked together, not only were they able to share their ethnic traditions, but also they were able to share “jokes, swearing, and sexual advice” (50). Peiss says they exchanged “obscenities and engaged in explicit discussion of lovers and husbands before work and during breaks,” behavior that was otherwise completely unusual (and unacceptable for women). Peiss explains that women could think about themselves in terms of sex and find out about sex. The ability to know and understand sex gave them power that they could not have known before.

Nonetheless, that didn’t stop anyone from paying them less than their male counterparts. Peiss reports that New York’s working women “typically earned below the ‘living wage,’ estimated by economists to be nine or ten dollars a week in 1910″ (52). And work started early. While we have such a thing as an adolescence now, 100 years later, at the time, there wasn’t much of a teenage dom in 1900, when people at that age had to work to support their families (56). Even so, these young people found time for socializing in a way that their parents never had. Social clubs began to be the rage, and dressing up became a point of pride. Peiss says that for “newly arrived immigrants, changing one’s clothes was the first step in securing a new status as an American” (63). Further, if one didn’t have a nice outfit to wear for going out, it was better to stay home than to wear something that was less than the best. For women, fashionable outfits might have been “a chinchilla coat, a beaded wedding dress, a straw hat with a willow plume” (64). It was often more important to women to be “stunningly attired at the movies, balls, or entertainments” than it was to have serviceable clothes for work (65). Another popular culture trend at the time was “romance novels such as Woven on Fate’s Loom, in which wealthy heroes and long suffering young heroines underwent the turns of fortune,” so much so that it became fashionable to “adopt storybook names that connoted wealth and romance, such as Henrietta Manners and Rose Fortune” (65).

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A Review of Societal Changes in Sister Carrie, a Novel by Theodore Dreiser. (2022, May 13). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/a-review-of-societal-changes-in-sister-carrie-a-novel-by-theodore-dreiser/

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