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Synopsis

Theodore Dreiser may tender a curve ball to readers by naming the book Sister Carrie, as the eponymous character is not necessarily the focal point of this novel. I truly read this as a great novel about the fatal character who married her.

Written at the end of the 19th century, the book predates so many things: truly high rise New York or Chicago, and more importantly the American embracing of Freudian concepts of psychoanalysis and treatment of depression.

Carrie enters the book as a young naive girl who sees the big city - 500,000 people - in Chicago. Like other characters of this great time, the citys harsh backdrop can stifle youth and decay spirit. Unlike Upton Sinclairs Jurgis Rudkus of The Jungle, Carrie quickly escapes the demeaning and devouring sweat shops of the windy city. How? Basically by being the feminine sex. And, like no good girl from the midwest would do - she is from Wisconsin - she boards with dapper Charles Drouet. Her rooming relationship is not like the 21st or 22nd century girl who boards, but the cohabitation under the guise of false marriage would easily amount to great scandal within the community - hence Drouet and Carrie must keep their false marriage a secret unknown by anyone.

Drouet is then confronted by the married George Hurstwood, who basically gives up a very comfortable life, wife and family in Chicago for Carrie. A greater sacrifice than he can manage. He first runs away with Carrie to Montreal, marries her before his own divorce is complete, adopts a false surname for the marriage, and moves with Carrie to New York where he finds work easily, but at a job which provides much less income, reward or prestige. And, during these times, Carrie who never enjoyed fruits of comfort, has no complaints.

It is then that the lives of simple Carrie and sophisticated George furnicularly move - she ascends slowly while depression catches Hurstwood by surprise and slowly eats away at his esteem until she becomes the breadwinner and he the lost soul. Many aspects of this relationship remind me of F. Scott Fitzgeralds tragic tale about Dick and Nicole Diver in Tender is the Night. Very poignant difference between these great American novels is 34 years in time. Fitzgerald, who wrote when the concepts of Freud and psychoanalysis had well matured for a much clearer understanding, incorporates the same in great detail to treat a mental illness similar to that of Hurstwood.

Amateurs of psychology, after reading this book, can clearly assert that Hurstwoods demise is classically caused by severe depression - he hides in his apartment, agoraphobic to a certain extent, he has an appetite reduction and he has a clear loss of hygiene. He may not be Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov of Dostoevskys Crime and Punishment, but his disease is equally deadly.

Reading a book of this size often can be difficult. But, this is not a book often read. Dreiser is a great story teller. And, his loyal socialist emotions erupt from the pages as he, like Sinclair, boldly depicts the tremendously unequal worlds of large metropolitan areas of America at this time. And, as displayed in these pages, Dreiser artistically shows how the inequality can be within the same family, within the marriage, within the nucleus of the family fabric.

In these hard times more than one hundred years later, we are experiencing many of the problems lived by these characters. Dreiser or Sinclair and their peers thought their literature would provide lessons to prevent our repeating this or these mistake(s). Maybe they did. Or, maybe the tough times are inevitable. But, whether in the late 19th century or early 21st century, these are trying times which can deliver great literature. I can only hope a silver lining of similarly great literature arises from the ashes of our economically strained circumstances.

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