The Immoral Use of Appearance to One's Advantage in Sister Carrie, a Novel by Theodore Dreiser

Some people try to use their looks to get ahead in life, while others think it is wrong or even immoral to use their appearance as an advantage. Because everyone looks different, many people who aren’t as well equipped with their looks resent the people that chose to use their superior ones to their advantage. It is ok to use what one has to get where one wants to go even if it means capitalizing on one’s own appearance.

In Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser, Carrie Meeber is noticed for her good looks and her body, more than for her talent. In fact, one of the only reasons her talent as an actress is discovered is because her looks have already gotten her to a point of recognition. It is a central issue within the book as Carrie starts out a plain, but pretty girl on her way to the big city to become a star. She is noticed first by Charles Drouet because he sees the “fascination and beauty in her” and this grows into a strong friendship and eventually a more intimate relationship (Dreiser 70).

Carrie is aware of her good looks and although she does not intentionally flaunt them excessively, she welcomes the good fortune that they bring her. She eventually comes to realize the power that she holds because of them and how the men react to their own “sexual impulses” towards women like her and she knows that the wealthy men can offer her “material comforts she has never known” and which is truly all she had ever wished for (McClinton Temple 98, Hinton 2).

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Carrie has very little money in the beginning, in fact she has just enough to get her to her sister’s house and pay her first weeks rent and expenses, so when Drouet offers to whisk her away and pay for a luxurious lifestyle, essentially in return for intimate companionship, she agrees almost immediately.

As Carrie adjusts to her new life, she is noticed by George Hurstwood, a true business man and gentleman. He is very wealthy and is excited and fascinated by the youth and freshness in Carrie that seems to immediately capture and hold his attention. “Her appearance came into a new light, under Hurstwood’s appreciation” and represents the second time that her beauty has given her an advantage where she had not had one before (Dreiser 89). This meeting and friendship begins a whole new affair that is based mainly on the looks of Carrie and the wealth of Hurstwood, but is propelled by the unmet needs of each person as an individual. Although there is a mutual affection for each other, there is an abundance guilt in the relationship because each of them is already romantically involved with another person, although Carrie does not know at first that Hurstwood is married. Carrie “uses Drouet and Hurstwood to her advantage” in order to have all the luxuries and opportunities she wants, and she continues to take the luxuries that each offers even when she is with the other one (CLC 2). With Hurstwood, Carrie receives money and livelier conversation because he is very brilliant, unlike Drouet who is a simple minded but genuine man. With Carrie, Hurstwood receives a fresh and youthful love that he felt he had never truly had even at the start of his own marriage. Carrie had a certain air about her that left “Hurstwood… passionately in love with Carrie” (Bolch 2). It seems as though each is the perfect match for the other one. Eventually, through deceptive and unfortunate circumstances, the two run away to Canada and New York together and leave their old lives behind. Hurstwood loses his money when he abandons his old life, and their money supply rapidly begins to dwindle as Carrie struggles to keep up with her previous lifestyle, and she loses the excitement of her relationship with Hurstwood because of her unsatisfied desires. When finances get too low, Carrie decides to go out looking for work just as Hurstwood claimed he had been doing the whole time they had been in New York. She is immediately noticed by people when she goes about looking and everyone is kind to her “seeing how pretty” she is (Dreiser 331). She finds a job very easily because of “her youth and beauty” and is able to keep Hurstwood and herself in their living space and eating good meals although she resents the role of provider for the two of them (Dreiser 339). She begins to resent Hurstwood even more when it seems he stops caring for his appearance and cannot be bothered to look for a job when she has found one so easily.

Gradually through gaining experience, Carrie becomes a better performer and is promoted countless times, always striving to work her way up higher. Eventually Hurstwood becomes nothing more than a bum and a burden for Carrie to pay for and she leaves him. She gains more popularity and success once people see how pretty and talented she is. She begins to receive attention from the media and from the kind of wealthy men she felt she had always deserved to be adored by. Carrie finally became the woman she had always wanted to be. Without her looks, she could very well have stayed an impoverished girl with nothing but a dream and a pretty face, but instead she explored her gifts, used them to her advantage, and got herself into a position of power and wealth. She pushed for what she wanted and succeeded because of it. If she hadn’t demanded the attentions of those in positions of wealth and power by displaying her looks, she wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. It seemed almost necessary that she use her more than agreeable looks to get her talent recognized. Carrie flaunted the looks she was given in order to get her talents noticed by the world, and she became very successful and accomplished by doing just that. Carrie eventually reached a point in her career where she no longer needed her looks to get her noticed because she had proven herself as a talented actress, but she only reached that point through expending her beauty.

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The Immoral Use of Appearance to One's Advantage in Sister Carrie, a Novel by Theodore Dreiser. (2022, May 13). Retrieved from

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