Sister Carrie

Sister Carrie Summary and Analysis of Chapters 17-24

Chapter 17

Carrie is exuberant over her part, and now has the ambition of becoming a great actress. Hurstwood is amazed, when he meets her in the park, by her excitement. He is also a member of the lodge that Drouet belongs to and as a result he can get tickets to her performance. When Drouet arrives at Fitzgerald and Moy's a few days later, Hurstwood cleverly lets him reveal that Carrie will be in a play at the lodge. Hurstwood then proposes that they get her some flowers and attend the performance, making it seem like a natural thing to do.

Carrie goes to her first rehearsal and watches as the director interrupts every line in order to get the right sort of expression. Finally she asks him to just let them go through the play once and see how it is performed. He yields to her suggestion. When Carrie herself comes onstage, she does such a good job that he thinks she must have had prior experience and tells her so. Delighted, Carrie returns home but is disappointed that Drouet is not interested. The next day she meets Hurstwood in the park and relates the entire story to him.


The split between Drouet and Hurstwood increases dramatically even as the parallels between them continue to grow. They are both in the same lodge together, although it is obvious that Hurstwood enjoys greater prestige. The difference lies in their natures. Drouet is able to get Carrie to start things and encourage her in them. However, he is terrible at showing a follow up interest. Hurstwood on the other hand is incapable of getting Carrie to do something new, but is strong at providing the social context in which she can succeed. The combination of the two men is what makes Carrie able to not only start acting, but then continue it as well.

A comment is needed on the meaning of the park. From Shakespearian times, parks have often been conceived of as an Eden, a place where danger lurks and anything is possible. This is equally true in this novel. The park is where Carrie and Hurstwood meet, thereby entering into the "danger" category. However, it is also where Hurstwood promises to take her away and marry her, making it a realm of dreams and possibility.

Chapter 18

The evening of the performance Carrie is escorted to the lodge in a carriage, accompanied by Drouet. She is nervous but looking forward to the show. Hurstwood arrives and sees that his influence has packed the theater with respectable citizens of the local middle classes. He greets many of his friends, all of them members of the lodge with him. They are not there for the show, but mostly because he asked them to come, and as a result they all surround Hurstwood and make him seem quite important.


Dreiser uses this chapter to critique the middle classes and their petty behavior. He describes Hurstwood as surrounded by other wealthy men, part of an eminent elite. However, he then belittles this situation, saying, "It was greatness in a way, small as it was" (141). Dreiser is effectively downplaying the scene, showing that this perceived greatness is a facade. He is implying that Hurstwood has done nothing great here, yet he is surrounded as if he were important. In reality, the entire audience is contrived for Carrie, not Hurstwood.

Chapter 19

The curtain rises and the performers come out, obviously terrified at this first performance. Even Carrie, when she emerges, is so frightened as to make the scene nearly unbearable. Drouet finally gets up and heads backstage to encourage her, succeeding in building her confidence up enough that she is able to do the next scene fairly well. He continues to build up her confidence so that by the end of the first act she is able to act with a passion that is incredible to behold. Hurstwood recognizes her talent immediately and rushes backstage to congratulate her.

Hurstwood realizes that since Drouet is already next to Carrie, he cannot speak openly. He therefore politely congratulates her and cursingly resumes his seat. Carrie gets better and better as the evening progresses, even doing an incredible soliloquy. After the performance, which has a former lover pleading with Carrie to take him back, Drouet resolves to marry her and Hurstwood decides to steal Carrie away. Hurstwood takes them out to dinner and whispers, "tomorrow", in Carrie's ear before leaving.


The plays that have thus far been presented not only reflect on the life of the characters, but are an ironic commentary on it. They serve as another way of seeing reality without experiencing it first-hand. Thus Drouet fails to see himself in the role of the absent husband in the previous play that they see. However, in this play, with Carrie directly before their eyes, both men see themselves in the role of the pleading lover. Drouet therefore resolves to marry her, Hurstwood will steal her away.

Dreiser is a realist, and also uses a great deal of naturalism. This is quite evident in the competition between the two men that is now taken to a new level. Hurstwood curses for the first time, saying, "Damn it" when he realizes Drouet is sharing the moment with Carrie that he wants to have. However, what is important is that this competition is confined by social graces. Hurstwood, for all his anger, is forced to pretend, or to act, as if he is not interested in Carrie.

As mentioned in the first chapter, there is a strong emphasis on the beginnings and endings. This scene, as the first performance, marks a beginning for Carrie. Thus Dreiser presents it in detail, giving us the words of the play and all of the characters' emotions. It is also a key moment in terms of the rise of Carrie versus the fall of Hurstwood. This is often drawn as a cross, with Carrie's life being the up arrow and Hurstwood's being the down arrow. Dreiser makes this apparent with his remark, "with the tables turned, she was looking down, rather than up, to her lover" (150).

Chapter 20

Hurstwood is at home reading the paper in the morning when his wife broaches the subject of the family vacation. When he refuses to talk about it, she snaps at him, but he retaliates by arguing back. She is upset by the argument and determined to make her husband suffer for it. Meanwhile, Hurstwood goes to the office.

Drouet tells Carrie that he is planning to marry her quite soon. He leaves, and Carrie exits to meet Hurstwood a few moments later, but Drouet has to return because he forgot some bills. He is surprised that Carrie is not in the house, and asks the chambermaid where she ended up. He then flirts with the maid until she reveals that Hurstwood comes to the house every day when he is away on sales trips. Now upset, Drouet asks a few more questions and then resolves to find out for sure if Carrie and Hurstwood are deceiving him.


For the first time Hurstwood is reading the newspaper. The paper again symbolizes the past, and an inability to rise in the future. We already see his wife making the decisions concerning their future, their children's future, and the future vacation. This contrasts with Carrie who only reads the paper to see if she is mentioned. Recall also that newspapers at this time are a social privilege. Jessica has mentioned that people get put in the paper for going to Europe. Thus, being in the paper is a form of social cache, representing a elevated status. Reading the paper, on the other hand, is a form of social decline.

Chapter 21

Carrie meets with Hurstwood and he broaches the subject of them running away. After some convincing, he makes her promise to meet him on Saturday provided he promises to marry her. They both agree and depart from each other.


The meeting place is again important because it is a park. The park, as mentioned earlier, represents Eden but is also a place of lost virginity and virtue. This is a highly symbolic place for Hurstwood and Carrie to plot their departure, because they are in essence leaving Eden to face an unknown world.

Chapter 22

Mrs. Hurstwood is becoming angrier with her husband because he is still shirking his social duties. He also no longer treats her kindly, thus raising suspicion in her mind that he might be playing around. She first finds out from a doctor that Hurstwood was driving with a young woman in the car, thereby raising her doubts. However, she is positive about Hurstwood's affair when she meets some of his friends who attended Carrie's performance at the lodge. She plays along with them in order to glean more information.

Later that evening Hurstwood returns home in good spirits having just met with Carrie. His wife is furious with him, and determined to gain the upper hand. She finally accuses him of having an affair, catching Hurstwood off guard. When he refuses to concede to her demands, she threatens to go to a lawyer. Since the house and most of the money is in her name, Hurstwood realizes that he is in a bad situation.


The mirror is used by Mrs. Hurstwood to watch her husband when he arrives home. The three uses of the mirror, vanity, imitation, and social appearances, are again called into play. She is preening herself before the mirror initially, but will soon conduct the entire fight while still looking at herself in it. This gives a new use to mirrors, that of abstracting the painful truths that people would rather only hear but not see. By fighting with Hurstwood's reflection, she only sees him abstractly, not in reality. The mirror also is a form of seeing truth, as strange as that seems. Through reflection the mirror is able to represent Hurstwood's fakeness and the fact that he is acting.

Chapter 23

Carrie is unsure about leaving with Hurstwood, in spite of her promise to him, and she returns home thinking of objections she can make to put it off. Drouet arrives, eager to confront her with his new knowledge that she and Hurstwood have been running around. He asks Carrie, but she denies everything until he mentions that Hurstwood is a married man. She was unaware of this, and immediately realizes the awful position she is in, blaming Drouet in the process. Carrie puts on her clothes and prepares to walk out.

Drouet soon softens and tries to convince her to stay for at least another month until she finds somewhere to go. Carrie bursts out crying but is touched by his caring for her. However, when he asks her what happened with Hurstwood, she refuses to tell him. Upset, Drouet finally gets mad at her for "using" him and walks out of the apartment.


This scene is yet another turning point in the novel, and hence is highlighted by Dreiser in great detail. At issue is not only who Carrie loves, but who loves her. Drouet comes across as a slightly foolish man who nonetheless is kind. Carrie, conversely, acts manipulative and abusive towards him. However, as Dreiser points out, this is a side to her nature that we have not previously seen, namely her active anger rather than her passivity. A crucial moment is when she gets to the door, but is unable to walk through it, instead breaking down into tears. For Carrie, this moment determines whether she can rule herself or continue to be ruled by others. Her inability to walk out means that she is still passively obeying others.

Chapter 24

Hurstwood's situation gets worse because his wife hires a lawyer and a detective. He meanwhile heads to the park to meet Carrie, but she fails to arrive since she is being detained by Drouet. Hurstwood returns to his office to check mail and soon a young messenger arrives with a note from his wife. She demands the money she requested immediately, but he refuses to reply. The next message he receives threatens to inform Moy of his infidelity, an act that would cost him his job. Hurstwood takes a cab home only to discover that she has locked him out of the house completely.


This chapter continues the decline of Hurstwood. He has now lost not only his wife and children, but also his home. It is important to follow the progression of events at this point. One fact of importance is that Jessica is behind a window when she watches Hurstwood try to enter his home. This is similar to Carrie who watched and desired the goods behind the windows. It marks the separation of desire and reality. From this point on, Hurstwood can no longer be inside the windows, rather he must longingly look through them.