Sister Carrie

Sister Carrie Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-16

Chapter 9

Hurstwood's family is introduced in this chapter, including his seventeen year old daughter Jessica, his twenty year old son George, Jr. and his wife Julia. The family lives in a ten room house but is clearly not a part of the upper classes. Mrs. Hurstwood, we are told, is relying on her children to become part of the elite upper classes and provide her with great social status.

Hurstwood's wife is described as being rather dull, but efficient at keeping the house. Dreiser remarks that occasionally Hurstwood would meet a young girl who make Julia seem lacking, but that he had never desired to change his lifestyle. Hurstwood also has no sympathy for other men in the middle classes who for some reason lose their wealth. He shakes his head and comments that a man cannot be too careful.

A story is related in which Hurstwood was invited to go to Philadelphia with another man. He did not take his wife along the way he usually did, and she became suspicious of what he was doing there. The story hints that Hurstwood was spending time with other women, something Julia must have guessed. After Hurstwood's return, Julia started dressing better and going out more, spending time at theaters, and we can guess that she herself might have another man taking care of her.


An interesting equality is made between the ability to act and the amount of wealth. Jessica remarks that her school is putting on a play at the Lyceum, perhaps The Merchant of Venice given that one of the characters is Portia. She then relates each girls' ability to act with the amount of money they possess. This means that in order to be a good actress, a person already has to be rich. This will pose a later obstacle for Carrie when she becomes an actress.

The mention of theaters is not only done in a positive sense here, but also in a negative sense. Theaters serve as places of seduction throughout this novel. It is a seduction of the senses and as well as a literal seduction. Thus we see Carrie being courted by Drouet at the Mikado while she is simultaneously able to escape from real life for a while. Julia is also fascinated by theater, using it as a way to get back at Hurstwood for his potential infidelity, but compromising her own virtue in the process.

Chapter 10

Dreiser starts with a discussion on morals and what they mean to society. He points out that Drouet has "conquered" Carrie, whereas she has allegedly lost something. However, he also shows us that Carrie has gained a safe place to life as opposed to being half-starved. Carrie sees herself as a prettier person on the outside, but as a worse person on the inside. When Drouet tells her that he has invited Hurstwood over, he mentions that she must pretend to be Mrs. Drouet. Carrie asks him why they do not simply get married, but he claims that he will marry her as soon as he finishes a property deal he is setting up.

Hurstwood arrives and Carrie immediately realizes that he is far more competent and clever than Drouet. He is extremely nice to her, pretending that she is Drouet's wife even though he knows she is not. Together they play euchre and Hurstwood helps Carrie to win against Drouet. After a short while he proposes that they start to gamble for dimes. After the game is over, Hurstwood invites both Drouet and Carrie to the theater with him, and tells Drouet that he would be very pleased to show Carrie around the town in order to make her less lonely.


Dreiser uses this section to address the sticky issue of morality. He fought for several years to get the book published, and then had to watch as the book was banned. This section is therefore significant because it lays bare the author's view of morality and how it fits into reality. Unlike previous novels, Dreiser does no delude himself or his characters into thinking they will be rewarded for morally virtuous behavior. Instead, he is quite insistent in pointing out that Carrie would be starving if she had not made the choice to join Drouet. Carrie's guilty conscience is the only real concession he makes to moralistic tendencies of society, and Dreiser quickly squashes her guilty feelings by showing how much happier she is.

The introduction of Hurstwood is eloquent yet parallels the introduction of Drouet. Hurstwood is described as being like Drouet, only much better. This parallel persists throughout the evening, with Hurstwood first sitting behind Carrie to help her win at cards, and then suggesting that he take them to the theater. Drouet is too shallow to see that Hurstwood is mimicking his exact pattern of seduction, albeit in a much more gentile manner.

Carrie's use of the role "Mrs. Drouet" is important because it is acting. Much the way Carrie shifted her gait in the earlier chapters while looking for a job in order to seem as if she were not looking for a job, she will now assume an even more permanent role. Indeed, this scene is full of acting, where they even act at playing cards while allowing Carrie to win the entire time. Indeed, all of the male/female interactions will involve acting of some sort, especially later when Hurstwood fakes a marriage to Carrie.

Chapter 11

Carrie is quickly becoming more graceful as she learns what befits a proper young woman. She watches Drouet to see what he looks for in women and then imitates the particular trait that he liked, such as a woman's gait or her hair. Carrie becomes enamored with her next door neighbor, a girl who plays the piano and wishes she too could learn to play. When Drouet arrives home one day, he invites her to dance to the music, thereby committing his first major mistake by not sympathizing with her.

Sometime later, after arriving back in Chicago from one of his trips, Drouet runs into an old female friend and invites her to dinner. He is startled to see Hurstwood in the same restaurant, and realizes that Hurstwood thinks he is cheating on Carrie. The next time the two men meet, Drouet tries to convince Hurstwood that he was merely chatting with an old friend.

Hurstwood quickly concludes that Drouet has no real feelings towards Carrie and starts to think about winning her away from him. Soon thereafter he sends a note inviting them to go to the theater with him, an invitation they readily accept. During the evening, Hurstwood charms Carrie even while Drouet sits and watches them, completely unaware that he appears a much weaker man when compared to Hurstwood. At the end of the evening Carrie has started to feel some emotion for Hurstwood.


One of the central aspects of Carrie's personality is that she does not lust after what she does not see. Her ability to imitate and even exceed others is what allows her to achieve her social grace, and her desires are likewise imitated from others. Thus, Carrie does not consider allowing Drouet to take care of her until she sees the other girls in the shoe factory with other men taking care of them. With the introduction of Mrs. Hale, Carrie once again has a female influence who will shape her desires.

The theme of looking at oneself in the mirror arises again in this chapter. Drouet sees Carrie looking at herself and remarks that she is becoming quite vain. However, the mirror is also used as a means of learning imitation. Thus, we see Carrie standing in front of the mirror practicing her head toss, a motion she has learned from the neighbor's daughter. Mirrors serve not just to heighten vanity but also to reflect social appearances.

Chapter 12

Hurstwood's son George turns out to have been at the theater the night before. He mentions at breakfast that he saw his father there, causing Mrs. Hurstwood to ask why he went to the theater. Hurstwood says that it was on business, namely that he was entertaining Mr. and Mrs. Drouet since they are friends of Moy, his boss. Mrs. Hurstwood has difficulty believing this since he had turned down her request to go out that evening by claiming he had too much work. She soon invites him to go out with her, and when he refuses they both end up mad at each other.

Mrs. Hale, Carrie's neighbor from upstairs, starts to show Carrie the mansions of the richer people in the town. They take a buggy and go to watch the carriages of the wealthy roll past them. When Carrie returns to her rooms, she notices how shabby they are compared to the luxury she has just seen.

Hurstwood arrives unexpectedly that evening, when Drouet happens to be out of town. He immediately strikes up pleasant conversation with Carrie. As the conversation progresses, he ascertains from her that she is no longer happy living with Drouet. He takes advantage of the situation to touch her hand, but Carrie does not pull away even though she knows she should. The evening ends with her looking in her mirror flustered and Hurstwood convinced that she likes him.


As mentioned earlier, Carrie derives her desires from other women, most notably Mrs. Hale. She is thus introduced to the fine mansions and the buggies, the source of the dissatisfaction that she acknowledges to Hurstwood.The theme of social place as defined by form of mobility is also revisited in the contrast between the buggy and the carriage. Carrie realizes that in order to move to a higher social position, the buggy must be replaced by the finer carriage.

The use of language in Dreiser now comes to the forefront. Dreiser himself states, "People in general attach too much importance to words" (95). Although applied to Carrie's ignoring Hurstwood's words and focusing instead on his heart, the comment applies well to the entire novel. The key moments of seduction are not defined by the words that Drouet or Hurstwood use, but rather by the things they provide. Thus, Carrie is seduced by a jacket and a flat, or a theatrical production. The failure of the characters to realize this crucial fact is what causes them, particularly Drouet, to be blind to what is really happening.

Chapter 13

Hurstwood decides to visit Carrie again two days after his first visit. He is enamored with her, described as being like a fly in a spider's web. Carrie, on the other hand, is unsure what to make of Hurstwood because she feels she should be loyal to Drouet even though she prefers Hurstwood. He arrives at her house, and together they end up taking a carriage trip on one of the newly built roads.

After a while Hurstwood touches Carrie's arm and tells her that he loves her. She weakly protests, but he can tell that she is happy. He then informs her that he is lonely and in need of some affection. Carrie is moved to pity by his words, and does not stop him when he puts his arm around her. He ends up kissing her.


There is strong imagery in this chapter of a fly in a spider's web. This serves to foreshadow the novel itself since Carrie will suck Hurstwood dry of everything he possesses. It also provides a better sense of who will be in charge of their budding relationship. Dreiser is liberal in his commentary, indicating that Hurstwood is convinced that he has conquered Carrie. In reality, given their different social positions, it is Carrie who has conquered him.

It is noteworthy that Carrie's thoughts during her second seduction never hint at material lust. Instead, she appears almost innocent and kind, falling for Hurstwood because he invokes her pity. This is an unexpected approach to winning Carrie; we would have thought he would seduce her by acting like Drouet. However, the seduction also takes place in a carriage, again a symbol of upward social mobility. This still parallels Drouet, who puts Carrie in a car, and thus serves to undermine Carrie's apparently "pure" thoughts regarding Hurstwood.

Chapter 14

The women in Carrie's apartment house have noticed her spending time with Hurstwood and are starting to wonder about their relationship. Carrie meets with Hurstwood again but refuses to do anything serious with him, making him realize that their romance will take a while longer. Meanwhile, Drouet returns from a sales trip and meets Hurstwood who pretends that everything is normal between them.

After arriving home, Drouet tells Carrie that he will soon strike for a raise, after which he plans to marry her. Carrie boldly suggests that he has no intention of ever marrying her, which he halfheartedly denies. On Wednesday they go to the theater with Hurstwood, who is attentive to both of them as usual. Dreiser points out an irony because in the play a man's wife listens to her love while the man is absent. Drouet says it serves the man right for treating his wife so badly, unaware he is speaking about himself.


The issue of marriage finally comes up in this chapter in full force. Marriage is important to Carrie, because it would legitimize everything that she has done thus far. Thus, it serves as a way of making her life morally acceptable. Her belief about Hurstwood, in which she thinks he will marry her, makes his proposal to her stronger when compared to Drouet who has no intention of marrying her.

At the end of the play, a beggar approaches the trio and asks for money. Only Drouet feels enough compassion to help the man. This is a moment of redemption for him because for the first time Drouet is shown being a kinder man that Hurstwood. This hearkens back to the first seduction of Carrie where Drouet is compared to a man giving her clothes and money the way he would to a beggar. Hurstwood, by contrast, has yet to give her anything of substance.

Chapter 15

Hurstwood's family situation is deteriorating rather quickly. His children are both more independent, to the point of not informing him of what they doing. Mrs. Hurstwood is also becoming very upset with him and the lack of affection he shows her. She demands that he get her season tickets to the horse races one day, a request that Hurstwood is loath to give in to. However, he finally agrees and buys the tickets. We are told that he is sustained in his miserable family life by the thought of Carrie waiting for him.

Hurstwood meets with Carrie in one of the parks. He is desperate to see more of her and asks her to leave Drouet and live with him. She tells him that she wants to leave Chicago if they do that in order to avoid Drouet. She further makes him consider marriage to her. Hurstwood asks her if she would leave with him immediately if he asked her to, and she consents assuming they were to marry as soon as possible. Elated by her result, Hurstwood takes a stroll around the park with her while thinking about how to make this possible.


Hurstwood falls into the traditional suitor mode in that he feels compelled to write to Carrie every day. As mentioned previously, writing letters is problematic because they are not very good. He is in essence giving her words instead of things, but not saying very much. This changes when they meet in the park and consider leaving Chicago together. For the first time a man takes Carrie's desire to be married seriously, and in a sense Hurstwood offers her the one thing she lacks.

It is worth noting Carrie's opinions towards the working people. She pities them, and feels sorrow for all the hard word they do. The reasons for her pity are unclear, although her previous experience working in the factory would make her more sympathetic. This is also a case of Carrie being able to imitate the best qualities of others. Drouet is the only man who gives money to a beggar, and here it appears as if Carrie has emulated his feelings towards the poor. She also will pick up traits from Hurstwood and improve on them as the novel progresses.

An important moment is when Carrie recalls her father, one of the few times we are given a glimpse into her past. "Her old father, in his dusty miller's suit" (116). This image of her father, a worker in a flour mill covered in the flour dust, is symbolically representing him covered in his work. He cannot extricate himself from his work. This compares to Drouet, a traveling salesman who sells himself to people as much as he sells his goods. Drouet is far less about industry and manufacturing and far more about being able to make money through personal interaction. In this sense he is above Carrie's father. He in turn compares to Hurstwood, a manager who is paid to stand around. There are no longer any material things associated with Hurstwood's job, thereby putting him above Drouet's job as well.

Chapter 16

Drouet happens to go to his Mason lodge and meets with some of his secret brothers. It turns out they are going to put on a play and need an actress. Drouet promises to find them a young woman. Unable to think of anyone other than Carrie, he comes home and convinces her that she would be a fine actress. She agrees to do the play, secretly getting very excited by the prospect.

Drouet returns to his lodge and tells them he has a girl named Carrie Madenda for the part. He then brings Carrie the playbook so she can learn her lines. When he mentions that he gave her a fake name, he covers it by saying that it is a precaution in case things do not work out. She agrees that it was a good idea. The next night Carrie performs her part for him in the privacy of her home. She does an amazing job, causing Drouet to remark that he never knew she could do anything like that.


There is a strong transition from merely seeing plays to acting in them. For Carrie this marks the next step in her life, a step from the passive to the active role. again Drouet is the one who provides her with the chance, bringing her the part from his Mason's lodge. We begin to see that Drouet, in spite of his shortcomings, at least gives Carrie things that allow her to move forward.

Carrie's use of the mirror now takes on a third meaning. Before it represented only vanity and the ability to imitate things. Now Dreiser remarks that this is the mark of a good actress as well, i.e. a good actress serves as her own mirror to her audience. Carrie's greatest ability is that she can reflect back to people what they want to see.