Sister Carrie

Sister Carrie Summary and Analysis of Chapters 33-40

Chapter 33

Carrie, although mentally prepared to have a change in her lifestyle, is unable to act for a while. Dreiser interrupts the plot to describe his philosophy of life, which involves an upward trend for the youth and a downward trend for the aged. Thus we can see Carrie rise and Hurstwood start to fall.

Hurstwood starts to become morose and less inclined to greet his customers. Soon the establishment is producing less income and he is forced to cut back. Hurstwood finally tells Carrie that he is having trouble and proposes moving to a smaller flat. This, coupled with news that the Vances are moving, causes Carrie to wonder if Hurstwood can continue to support her.

They move into a new flat and Hurstwood tries to start saving money. However, the land on which he runs the bar is sold and the new owner tells them he will not renew the lease. This means that Hurstwood loses all his money and is essentially broke. He spends a month looking for new work, but finally is forced to tell Carrie what has happened.


A key theme in the novel is elaborated by Dreiser in the second paragraph. Here he lays out his philosophy of life, a philosophy that is expressed throughout the book, namely an upward trend followed by a downward trend. This is shown crunched into one novel through Carrie's youth and rise and Hurstwood's age and fall. Although happening simultaneously, these two should be viewed as one continuous line, first rising and then falling.

Newspapers become an even stronger image and are used more frequently by Hurstwood then ever before. "Each day he could read in the evening paper..." (261). Later Dreiser informs us that Hurstwood spends his time reading newspapers and brooding. This again represent that Hurstwood is only able to look at the past rather than forward into the future.

Chapter 34

Hurstwood searches for a new place to buy a partnership in but is unable to find anything cheap enough that still meets his criteria. He and Carrie have trouble speaking to each other and no longer share any form of love in their relationship. The last day of his lease arrives and Hurstwood divides the assets with his partner and leaves. He returns home and tells Carrie that he must look for a job in order to save up more money before going into business for himself again. He walks for several days but fails to find anything. In the end, Hurstwood returns home and buries himself in a newspaper.


Carrie's predicament now becomes the same as when she lived with the Hansons, only now she is in the role of Minnie Hanson. Hurstwood pretends that he is saving up for something better, knowing how impossible it will be. This is unacceptable to Carrie; it is what she went to Drouet for in order to avoid. Hurstwood's decline is further delineated by the image of him burying himself in a newspaper at the end, metaphorically placing him in a dead past.

Chapter 35

Hurstwood applies for a job as a whiskey salesman but does not get it. He fails again to find a job and starts spending his days going into a hotel and sitting in the lobby to stay warm. When a large snowstorm arrives, he starts staying at home, reading the newspapers to find out what is going on. The newspaper informs him that the storm is getting worse, and he also reads about the storm when it has ended.

Hurstwood goes once the storm is over but catches a cold and is laid up for several more days. He then stops looking for work altogether and starts to take over a large part of the household activities in an effort to save money. Soon he starts skimping on all the household necessities, including the amount of food. Carrie refuses to even sleep in the same bed with him after several months of this.


The image of windows arises again, but in an entirely new perspective. Hurstwood goes inside the hotel and looks out the windows, no longer longing for what is outside, but happy to be shut out. Here he is escaping what is outside, as an old man who is unable to deal with life. This contrasts with Carrie who prefers to be outside in the action.

The significance of newspapers climaxes in this chapter during the storm. Hurstwood is so completely destroyed as a man that he now gets even his weather from the papers. He reads about how the storm is approaching, how it has arrived, and how it has cleared up. This ties in with windows for him; his life has gotten so bad that he cannot even look out the windows anymore.

Chapter 36

Carrie accidentally meets Mrs. Vance in the street one day and is forced to reveal where she lives. She is now thoroughly fed up with Hurstwood and is ashamed of her life. He, meanwhile, has started gambling and manages to lose over sixty dollars in a single poker game. Hurstwood also has started sitting around the apartment wearing his old clothes. Carrie chastises him for it, telling him that Mrs. Vance might call on them some day.

Mrs. Vance does finally show up at their door, but Carrie is out and Hurstwood answers her knock dressed in his shabby clothes. She quickly leaves, realizing how poor they must be now, and when Carrie returns home she is furious with Hurstwood. In their heated argument, he reveals that she is not even properly married to him.

After the argument Hurstwood leaves the house and eats out at a hotel. He soon heads back to a poker hall and starts playing, determined to win more money. After several good rounds he bets and loses over seventy-five dollars. He loses a further twenty that night before returning home. Hurstwood spends even more money over the next few days and then Carrie informs him that he needs to pay the rent. He is left with barely a hundred dollars.


The gambling scenes rely heavily on the element of chance, one of the fundamental parts of this novel that influences all of the characters. Thus Hurstwood, even though he is losing money, is able to still blame the loss on external factors (the cards) rather than take the blame himself. As the money disappears we feel the sense of impending climax and realize that Carrie will have to do something very soon.

This also marks Hurstwood's final deception of Carrie. When he reveals that their marriage is a sham, he also gives her the freedom to leave him with no legal strings attached. In each of the deceptions that Hurstwood perpetrates on Carrie we see her feelings towards him erode; at this point she no longer has any positive emotions about him. Carrie has once again reached the nadir of her time in New York and will soon have to start rising if Dreiser's philosophy (the young rise, the old fall) is to hold true.

Chapter 37

When Hurstwood tells Carrie that he has less than a hundred dollars left, she proposes that she go to find work as an actress. He initially objects, but soon relents and encourages her to go find a job. She gets a newspaper with the names of some agent in it and seeks them out. However, all the agents either turn her away or ask for money up front in order to represent her. Carrie returns home and tells Hurstwood that she will go to the managers the next time.


The desperation that Hurstwood has led Carrie into has finally prompted her to start taking action. Notice how she differs now from her time in Chicago; she is confident, able to enter the agent's rooms without too much fear, and certain that she wants the job. This differs markedly from her initial job hunt where she hated the work, was terrified of the employers, and had no confidence.

Chapter 38

Carrie continues her efforts to find a job in the acting industry. She soon learns that she needs to make appointments in order to meet with the managers, and does so. After a week she is offered a chance to be part of the chorus line at the Casino, one of the many theaters. Carrie informs Hurstwood that she starts the next morning, getting him excited about his future prospects as well.

Carrie attends her first rehearsal and realizes that the director is tough and at time brutal with his condemnation of the girls. After three long hours she returns home and practices the routines she has learned in order to be perfect. Hurstwood is soon down to his last few dollars and tells her after a week that she will have to use her own money to help support them. Carrie is indignant about this, believing that he should get a job and start contributing himself.

She has her first performance and again has stage fright until she realizes how insignificant her role is. Carrie also thinks that some of the leads are quite poor actresses and that she could do better. When she arrives home, Hurstwood for the first time asks her for some money. Carrie refuses, furious that he will not get a job.


Dreiser is careful to draw an analogy between the type of work Carrie is doing and the common laborers. He states, "Girls who can stand in a line and look pretty are as numerous as laborers who can swing a pick" (299). This is the job that Carrie gets, one that is replaceable and meaningless. For Dreiser, however, this is a conflation of the top and bottom stratums of society. Working in a ditch is far lower than being in a Broadway show in terms of status, yet the work is compared as if identical.

Chapter 39

Carrie starts to talk with one of the girls in the chorus and learns that she can get chorus jobs everywhere. She also learns that her pay is too low and that she should be making at least fifteen dollars a week. The girl offers to help her get a job in another show, making Carrie very grateful.

Soon the manager of the theater notices Carrie and tells the ballet-master to put her at the head of the line. Soon thereafter she is moved up to lead a different column of girls, a move that also increases her salary to eighteen dollars a week. She does not tell Hurstwood about her advancement, and starts to use the money to buy herself nice things. He soon realizes that she is making more than she is telling him, but does not say anything.

Carrie is invited to join Lola and two young men in a drive around the town followed by dinner. She agrees to go, worrying about Hurstwood, but soon forgets about him and has a good time. She remembers Ames and the way he talked to her while sitting in the restaurant, and wonders what has happened to him.


Carrie's independence continues to grow at this point, so much so that she is now able to support herself as well as Hurstwood. Her advancement in the chorus is the partially the result of merit, but also chance again playing a role. It is pure luck that the manager starts to like her and moves her up. This independence gives her the financial security to consider leaving Hurstwood. The next step will be her emotional security, the knowledge and maturity to leave him without fearing the results.