Sister Carrie

Dreiser's New Woman and the American Dream

In the late 19th century, young women began to renounce the rigid gender roles of the Victorian era, dissociating themselves from the inflexible differentiations of domestic and public spheres, and ultimately from notions of maternity. Countless young women arrived daily at the train stations of the huge cities, each of them cut off from their families, striving for their personal fortunes, seeking material bliss and a satisfied life in seemingly auspicious environments. Popularly labeled the “woman adrift”, as she was described in Joanne Meyerowitz’s work, or, as in the latest scholarly work, the “new woman”, however, was unable to rise from rags to riches, and often enough had to dwell in poor living conditions (xvii). The American Dream thus remained just another grand myth that arose with the emergence of the consumer society.

Theodore Dreiser’s debut novel Sister Carrie, published in 1900, closely follows the aforementioned development and elaborates on the image of the independent and liberated “new woman”. Yet Dreiser’s depiction does not remain one-dimensional; it centers not only on Carrie and her immoral struggle for material wealth but also develops into a threefold illustration of the liberated female. Apart from...

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