Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser was published in 1900 and is another Top 150 novel. The title of the book led me to believe this would be a story about a nun. I couldn’t have been further from the truth!
This is the story of an 18-year-old girl named Caroline who boards a train in her small town home in Wisconsin headed for a new life in the big city of Chicago where she intends to stay with her older sister and her husband. No sooner is she on the train, than a traveling salesman by the name of Charles Drouet makes a move on Carrie. Ignorant of the ways of such men, she is taken-in and forthcoming in sharing personal information with the smooth talking stranger who pounces on her soon after her arrival in Chicago.
Jobs of consequence and fair pay are inaccessible to a girl like Carrie who has no previous experience. Forced to take a menial factory job leaves Carrie miserably unhappy and disillusioned. In addition, her sister and her husband take almost all of the meagre pay Carrie earns as room and board. Enter Drouet, with a pocketful of money and an ulterior motive, and Carrie follows him on a dead-end path away from her family. With stars in her eyes, she believes Drouet’s self-motivated promises. In reality, Carrie becomes a kept woman.
As the story progresses, Carrie’s unfulfilled desires lead her along a path of compromise, disillusionment, and disappointment. Considering the year in which the story was published, one can imagine how racy the subject matter was. The story isn’t solely about a girl gone wrong, it is a social commentary about the early nineteen hundreds; in particular the mores which affected women.
Unfortunately, this is another novel which lacks a happy ending. I enjoyed reading it very much because, even though more than a hundred years have passed since it was written, I don’t think life has changed as much as we’d like to believe. The novel is well-written and the characters believable. I came away from this novel with the reinforced belief that some things never change.