Sister Carrie Symbolism

5507 words (22 pages) essay in English Literature

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The naturalistic writer presents his theme through symbolic detail. The use of symbolism in Sister Carrie offers some evocative effects to this novel, namely, it eases to determine the elements, expose the reality and consolidate the theme. In this way the symbolic degree of the narrative put down straight over the events and occurrences of the simple story itself. Dreiser’s use of symbolic detail permeates the novel ranging from careful descriptions of dresses and adornment to descriptions of great American cities and their surroundings.

The author must make the reader aware that the details are important to the meaning. According to Donald Pizer in his The Novels of Theodore Dreiser: A Critical Study, “Dreiser is much more successful as a symbolic than as a metaphoric writer”. Dreiser generally accomplishes this end through a kind of “incremental repetition” (qtd. in Ward, web) of important details. Occasionally, however, he shows a lack of subtlety when he addresses his reader directly to reveal his intention.

By recording carefully Carrie’s reaction to specific events Dreiser shows her moving from her early naïve optimism to her final disillusionment and despair. Carrie’s sensitivity to details provides the emotional centre of the novel. The most important patterns of details, in addition to clothing and money, are mirrors, the theatre, hotels, and restaurants; interiors and dwellings mainly. These comprise the walled and gilded city to which Carrie seeks entrance.

  • Rocking to dreamland

Symbols in Sister Carrie are what E.K. Brown, in his Rhythm in the Novel called rhythmical symbols because they constantly reappear in various contexts changing in character and situation during the novel. The rocking chair as a symbol of dream for Carrie in Chicago and of escape for Hurstwood in New York, and it is an obvious example of a rhythmical symbol. .(qtd. in Pizer, 1976: 91)

Throughout Sister Carrie, the symbol of the rocking chair is employed by Dreiser to reflect “the restlessness, the feverish activity, which leads Carrie to no satisfying destination”( Gerber,1964: 62). Early in the novel Carrie is seen rocking in her sister’s flat on Van Buren Street , dreaming of escaping with Drouet. As Drouet’s mistress in Ogden Place she desires a luxurious life, fame, applause, refinement. The rocking chair is a symbol of Carrie’s continued frustration and her inability to make a choice, wavering instead from one possibility to the other. Just before Hurstwood’s two visits which occur along chapters eleven and twelve Carrie sits rocking in her chair. Dreiser takes the opportunity to foreshadow the future outcome of her desire: “She hummed and hummed as the moments went by …and was therein as happy though she did not perceive it, as she ever should be”(87). In New York when living with Hurstwood, she sits rocking to and fro, thinking how “common place”( 229) her pretty flat is compared with “what the rest of the world was enjoying”(229)- the rest of the world made of those who had money and had a better life than hers.( Gerber, 1964: 62)

In contrast to Carrie, after losing his business, Hurstwood uses the rocking chair to meditate over the lost days, the exhausted funds and his lack of strength. In the chair’s slow and repeated motion he finds a narcotic dream of security.

The final view of Carrie is moving. She now finds herself rocking in her chair, “successful but unhappy, accomplished but unfulfilled” (Gerber, 1964: 63), she dreams of new conquests which undoubtedly will or must bring her joy. Yet she accepts for the first time that happiness may not be for her, that perhaps her fate is “forever to be the pursuit of that radiance of delight which tints the distant hilltops of the world” (369). Dreiser creates a universe where life takes on the aspect of ” a fierce, grim struggle in which no quarter was either given or taken, and in which are laid traps, lied, squandered, erred, through illusion”. (Dreiser, 1991: 82) And even the survivors of the struggle to become a king, are left without a trophy.

The symbolic action of rocking is most fitting: Carrie is at once discontent, physically uneasy, reasonably energetic, and passively waiting for better fortune to come and find her. At the end of the novel, Carrie is still rocking. Her dwellings are different now and better by material standards-she is now in a lush New York hotel-but the action is the same and is symbolic of everlasting discontent. (Gale, 1968: 88) Carrie has reached in her quest the empty terminal, which Dreiser points out, so many Americans reach especially those who ascend from humble beginnings and are deceived by the life around them into believing the money ideal to be all in all. (Gerber, 1964: 63)

Dreiser’s symbolism reveals the separate and distinct worlds of Sister Carrie. There is the realistic world of the “reasonable” mind in the imagined world of the “emotional” world, a world described in the novel as: “Elf-land”, “Dream Land”, or “Kingdom of Greatness”. This is the world from which Hurstwood emerges as an “ambassador” to bring Carrie back with him. It is this world from which Carrie ironically becomes a citizen – ironically because it never seems to yield the rewards and beauty it promises. Life is a constant battle fought between the giant armies of frustration and desire.

Dream symbolism provides a method of revealing what the world outside thinks of Carrie’s behaviour. Minnie, Carrie’s sister, functions in the novel as a choric figure. In her dream, the standard judgement of Carrie’s actions is revealed. Carrie leaves the world of her sister to go to a dark and dangerous world below the surface of the ground. The swirling waters and unplumbed darkness of that world without a rigid morality seem certain to destroy the naïve girl. It is no more necessary to accept Carrie’s estimate of her sister Minnie as absolute and unbiased truth. Each girl unconsciously sees the other as a projection of herself, and thus interprets the life of the other as it would seem to herself.

  • Clothes and Appearance

The finest clothing made is a person’s skin, but, of course, society demands something more than this.  ~Mark Twain??( il las sau il elimin pt ca doar acest subcapitol e introdus de un citat?)

The most obvious and well-known recurring symbol in Sister Carrie is that of clothes- clothes as an index of taste and social position and for Carrie of a naïve but moving desire for a fine and pleasing life. (Pizer, 1976: 92) One can acknowledge the fact that appearance, while not including value and morals, as should be of more importance, defines oneself and helps them establish a place within the social system. Sister Carrie serves as an outstanding model to portray this idea. To the majority of the characters, how they appear and act hides the reality of which they live. Dreiser carefully lists in precise detail everything Carrie owns: “a cheap imitation alligator-skin satchel, […], a yellow leather snap purse,[…] and four dollars” (1). Since Carrie does have enough money to pay for a real alligator-skin satchel, she holds a fake with the intention that she appears to be something else than she is. False appearances are a dominating theme throughout Sister Carrie.

Because so little is revealed about Carrie’s identity, the first impression left by her is formed not by what she does or by what she opinions but by her belongings. Dreiser ends the description of her with the precise amount of money she holds. This stress on money will be a major theme all through the rest of the novel.  

To Carrie, the feeling of completeness comes only when dresses magnificently. On her first day at work, she feels ashamed with her female co-workers. After leaving her obscure work station, she proceeds to the lobby where she encounters other young women. As she walks past, “She felt ashamed in the face of better dressed girls who went by. She felt as though she should be better served and her heart revolted.”(31) Being of middle class stature, she thinks degraded and believes she can get no respect or attention from these, “… better dressed girls.”(31) Though she is extremely attractive in her lesser state, as proven by the young men who flirt with her, she feels only remorse because she was not lavishly displayed.

Carrie’s first come across with mass fashion comes with her visit to the Fair, a Chicago department store. In this episode she is not shopping or more appropriately, having no money she is only “window shopping”. (Geyh, 2006: web)  Carrie’s call to the department store prove her interest in conspicuous consumption; “it had developed a new and curiously intimate relationship between purchaser and consumer goods”. (Eby, 2001: web) As she observes the eye-catching goods available for sale, Carrie “could not help feeling the claim of each trinket and valuable upon her personally [. . . .] The dainty slippers and stockings, the delicately frilled skirts and petticoats.[. . .] all touched her with individual desire” (22). But the lure that attire and other personal possessions have for Dreiser’s protagonists-that he calls “the voice of the so-called inanimate!” (98)-lets us to notice that memorable change. Every one of of the fancy items tempts Carrie although she cannot afford to pay for any of them; “thus a capitalist economy manipulates the desire of the consumer without ever completely satisfying it” (Eby, 2001: web). Carrie realizes how far removed she is from its glamour and attraction. Although she desires for herself the frilly dresses, the jewellery and trinkets heaped upon the counters, she keenly feels how none of these are in the range of her purchase. “An outcast without employment” (17), a mere job-seeker, even the shop-girls could see she was poor and in need of a paying job.

The coveted items of clothing put on display in the department stores, restaurants, hotels and streets, are for Carrie, matter of both conscious and unconscious desire, but the desire is unrelated to any organic, biological “need”. The clothes are functional primarily as indicators of what Carrie might possess and be, of this desire, but also indicators of she is not , of “her class bound status as a daughter of working-class parents”, and of all that exceeds her grasp.( qtd. in Geyh, 2006: web)

The importance of clothes in Sister Carrie arises from the choice that one can exercise over them “as a conspicuous performance of prospective being.” Drouet seduces Carrie buying her the clothes that would be the appropriate costume only for the role of mistress. The clothes “are ones that she could not even explain let alone wear were she to stay in her role of working girl at her sister’s flat”.. Similarly, Carrie’s first acting job in New York translate into a paradoxical ability to buy the clothes for the role of a young actress. ( Fisher, 1991: 554)( se intelege ca citatele sunt ale lui Fisher?)

While Carrie is the main character whose existence thrives on the dependence on her looks, she is not the only one who Dreiser chooses to make a victim of appearance. At Carrie’s first meeting with Drouet on the train from Colombia City to Chicago his clothing and conduct ” built up for her a dim world of fortune, of which he was the centre” ( 6) The young man whose charm and audacity caught Carrie’s attention on the train also suffers from the value he places on appearance. While uttering her first words in their first sparked conversation, she notices his, “Flush, colourful cheeks, a light moustache, a gray fedora hat.” (3) She further observes him noticing every light detail of his suit and the jewellery. “His suit was of a striped and cross pattern brown wool, […] the low crotch of the vest revealed a stiff bosom of white and pink stripes. […] his fingers bore several rings…” (3) From this quote, one can come to the conclusion that Drouet is a rather wealthy man with many refined tastes. In reality, “He was not a moneyed man.” (32) When in the presence of those who were fortunate, “… he straightened himself a little more stiffly and eats with solid comfort.” (32) This defines his social status since he is well known among the prosperous. Carrie soon realized all the city had to offer her, such as “wealth, fashion, eases every adornment for women, and she longed for dress and beauty with a whole heart” (21).   Carrie is aroused by “something promising in the entire material prospect” that Drouet had to offer (5). While her background does subconsciously caution her momentarily, she ignores her misgivings in exchange for the happiness that Drouet’s success might bring her. While Drouet did work, he wants to hide his reality. His false preens dazzles many, including Carrie. As soon as Carrie sees that Drouet is not as well off as she originally perceived him to be, she turns to another man, another man who, like Drouet, was masking his own reality behind his allure of money and position.

Mr. G. W. Hurstwood is the second gentleman to catch Carrie’s fancy. He is the manager of a renowned restaurant and is known as a successful man about town. Many see him as a solid man of good physical stature, rather young, and is known for his, “fine clothes, his clean linen, his jewels, and, above all, his own sense of his importance.” (33) On the surface, Hurstwood is a man of power. He holds a valued opinion among many and some kind of effect on many more, Drouet and Carrie included. With all of the appeal, there is no possible way for anyone to see Hurstwood’s personal life. No hint of the slightest inconsistency of the glamour can be found. People of social royalty know and see his family on many popular social outings. His wife is a charmer as well and many have high hopes for their young daughter. One would not conceive that Hurstwood and his wife were having heated arguments leading to marital problems. Due to the fact that many knew the family and how affluent in all aspects they are, most overlooked Hurstwood’s callings on Carrie. Appearance, which led to this man’s social status, kept people from considering this. Looks and charm is the only thing that kept this man from suspicion.

Later in the story when Hurstwood social status declines, clothes and implicitly appearance reflect this time the reality. Gradually running out of money Hurstwood is not preoccupied with his appearance, he once rigorously guarded. Still, for the sake of old times, he tries to bring to light the old self. This fact emphasis Hurstwood’s desire to keep appearances even though his social status was not the same. As Hurstwood experiences life as poor individual he begins to see the life of his wealthy past as ” …a city with a wall about it” (328) on the other side Hurstwood’s shabby clothes expose his state, the opposite but equally conspicuous equivalent to the display of state, that is the normal function of clothes.( Fisher, 1991: 554)

In contrast to Carrie’s new clothing which makes her part of her new world, Hurstwood’s clothing is now threadbare part and worn. It is not sufficiently warm for him to weather in the cold winter. Clothing reveals the complete inversion of the „marriage” of Carrie and Hurstwood. As Hurstowood’s preoccupation for the lack of money increases he tells Carrie that they do not afford to buy her any new clothes, “she had not failed to notice that he did not seem to consult her about buying clothes for himself.” (340) A few short years ago he was struggling breadwinner who occasionally indulged himself in new clothing to meet the world, while Carrie remained home, running the household in her outdates garb.

In Sister Carrie: An Introduction, written by Kenneth S. Lynn, the author summarizes Carrie’s arrival in Chicago. He then proceeds to say that she is, “depending solely on personal appeal to enable her to work out her salvation.” He goes on to criticize Drouet and Hurstwood as well. “Drouet has no reality; take away the salesman’s clothes, and he has nothing.” (qtd. in Pizer, 1976: 40) This quote aimed to describe Drouet, shows that though his flashy clothes are a trademark of his, he really comes down to nothing. Hurstwood is in the same situation and as Dreiser says after a passer-by inquires if he is a motorist, he finally realizes that he is nothing. Carrie is taught manners and how to become a lady.

Because clothes can be changed more rapidly than apartments they become a more sensitive index to changes of state. Clothes are one’s address. Only hotels are “places of living sensitive enough to the fluctuations of self to equal clothing as performances of the monetary condition of the self.” In New York after they separate, both Carrie and Hurstwood, move through “opposite ends of the spectrum of records” the need of a society in which money will be kept in the stock market so that its waverings of value can be represented in the daily newspaper rather in land or goods which are, by comparison, subject only to year-long or decade-long readings of change of worth. As the rocking chair is to fortune’s wheel, second by second rises and falls, so too are clothes, hotels, and newspapers to the long-term indexes of fortune and value. ( Fisher, 1991: 554)

Every feature of these characters is a show put on display like that of a theatrical play. None have a real personality because it has been erased by the tantalizing temptation of being that name on the front page, or the cause of a hush fallen over a room as they enter. They even manipulate simple features to deceive their prey audience. As far as personalities being deciphered, as mentioned earlier, these three critical characters have no real personalities. They display the best well thought out personality that the situation demands. When they are in the company of a wealthy benefactor, the room and scene is filled with gaiety on their plastered surface, but they loathe for the life.

Each of these three characters uses their appearance to obtain material goods and respectable social standings. They all achieve this, yet in the end, they wind up in desolate isolation. Had these characters accepted their lives as they would have came to be, and not used deceit to con the unknowing, perhaps they wouldn’t have ended up in a lesser state then they stood at originally.

  • Money

In this novel, together with mirrors and clothes, money represents social status. Dreiser chose to draw a realistic portrayal of America for what it really was- materialistic (Gerber, 1964: 52). Life is presented in relation to this driving force and seems to undergo all destinies, involving everyone, as participants in the mad-cycle of the booming economy. “The money ideal would be exposed as the great motivating purpose of life in the United States: one’s relative affluence at any level of society determining the degree creature comfort one might enjoy, the measure of prestige one might own, and the extent of social power one might command” (Gerber,1964: 52-53). Sister Carrie completely reaffirms America’s mania with money because all characters’ status symbol is determined economically.

Dreiser’s characters are often fascinated with the physical reality of money (Pizer, 1976: 91); “the money she has accepted was two, soft, green, handsome ten-dollar bills” (39). The physical transfer of money is an act which promises so much for both “the body and the spirit that it either entails or suggests the sexual” (Pizer, 1976: 91)

Carrie’s impoverished situation incites genuine pity, but Drouet offers her money having hidden desires and intentions. This allows him to touch her hand, the first act in establishing physical contact with her. The apparently harmless offer of loaning money to Carrie and the pleasant lunch are a first step into obtaining it. Giving her the money somehow permits him to feel her hand, the first move in creating physical intimacy with her. In reality, he is trading the occasion for sex. ( Pizer,1976: 92) The lunch and the loan are only the first step in getting it. As she feels the twenty dollars in her hand, Carrie fells that a she was connected to him by a “strange tie of affection.”(47). Having money as a principal weapon, Drouet has obtained the right to commence physical closeness with Carrie.

Several times in the novel, including in this moment, an exact dollar sum is named. “Carrie lives in a world of prices” regardless of whether she is at work, out shopping, at home or on the street. Her labour worth is set to four dollars and fifty cents per week; accommodation costs four dollars per week; car fare amounts sixty cents per week; an economical lunch is ten cents; etc. By accepting Drouet’s money, Carrie unconscientiously establishes her worth to him at exactly twenty dollars. Carrie’s desire maintain secret her intentions from Minnie and Hanson confirms that she is at least partly alert that she is selling herself. (Ward, 2000: web)

Carrie symbolizes the collective values of the burgeoning American consumer culture. To her, money represents power; one might easily judge her and include her in the money-hunters category of people; those that would be happy to be trapped on a desert island if only she had a large amount of money. (Ward, 2000: web) She had not acknowledged the fact that money and nothing else is worth nothing. Only in relation to consumer goods does it represent anything of value.

Chapter seven begins with one of Dreiser’s frequent discussions on the meaning of money. “The true meaning of money yet remains to be popularly explained and comprehended” (47). What Carrie does not understand, a fault she has in common with almost all of humanity, is that money should be paid out as “honestly stored energy” (48) not as a “usurped privilege” (48). Carrie’ definition of money would be simple and straightforward- “something everybody else has and I must get” (48). Dreiser then continues to give a remarkable explanation of money. Essential in his observation is that if an individual has money, it must be spent in order to recognize its value. Carrie as well as Drouet belong to this category. If not earned honestly money in this novel are obtained by theft or beggary. Money serves as a modality of characterization, consequently everyone in the novel is dependent on money to describe who they are and what they do.

In the game played at the first meeting of Carrie and Hurstwood, Dreiser provides a miniature model of the characters, forces, and movement of the novel making symbolic use of the ordinary details. In this game of chance and skill Hurstwood manipulates his hand so that Carrie can win all the money while Drouet remains ignorant of what is happening. “Don’t you moralize” Hurstwood says to Carrie, “until you see what becomes of the money” (74). This passage is like a vision from future, unconscious words evocative of what was to come.

Social status is changed with money, at the same time offering those who acquire it the possibility to acknowledge the supreme wealth or the supreme lowering of status. For example, in the very beginning of the novel, Carrie rides in a train, the way poor people do then in a street car, as the fashionable girls of the time and finally she is forced to walk, forced to return to her initial status. This completes a chain that marks the gradual lowering of Carrie’s status in the society until she reaches the lowest point, the point where she not only has no job but is also forced to walk around the city. Being Drouet’s company in the restaurant Carrie is aware of the decline. She observes that he affords to travel by train and she immediately associates means of transport with wealth. Lost between thoughts she hears him mentioning that she has to return home if she does not accept his offer, but she does not acknowledge the significance of this fact. She only sees a stage coach passing by. This serves as a visual reminder that a wealthy life can be lived only in a big city like Chicago, and is crucial to making her accept Drouet’s proposal. Her choice gives her a sense of well being, dragging her out from her state of dreamer, and, by the ending of the chapter, she is already riding the car from her vision. After Hurstwood and Carrie’s affair and escape to New York, Hurstwood soon finds himself having to think carefully about small disbursements like rent and cab fare. Although he has sufficient money to invest in new businesses, he turns down many prospects because they are too low-class for him. Not only is his money very important to him now, but so is his respectability. Having to live so frugally as he searches for a job humiliates him (Balling, 1967: 61). The importance of Hurstwood’s reputation to himself underscores the materialism in America. Being who you are to yourself is not as important as being someone to others (Gerber, 1964: 60-61). Hurstwood’s decline pushes Carrie further away from him. Mrs. Vance’s decision to cut off her connection with Carrie because of Hurstwood’s appearance exposes the “dehumanizing nature of consumer society” (Ward, 2000: web). While Hurstwood gradually sinks toward deprivation and suicide, Carrie once again moves foreword and appears on stage. Carrie’s “constant drag to something better was not to be denied” (Thorp, 1963: 472). Her choice to leave him is almost completely motivated by finances, as was her decision to marry him.

  • Mirrors – reflections of the self

Mirrors should think longer before they reflect.  ~Jean Cocteau??

Another important symbol is the mirror in which Carrie attempts to see inside herself to discover the truth or to reflect upon some problem. Like the rocking chair, the mirror represents the two poles of Carrie’s thought, for it is also used by her simply to admire her appearance in new clothes. Both the rocking chair and the mirror fuse the desire for material satisfaction with the realisation that Carrie is never happy if she continually desires something new. Naturally, Carrie is never conscious of the symbolic import of these articles, but certainly the author is, and so, it is hoped, is the reader.

Mirrors-both factual and the metaphorical mirrors of others’ reaction to her-contribute to this construction of identity as Carrie glimpses the ideal as reflected in them. “The Mirror” as the narrator notices “convinced her of a thing which she had long believed. She was pretty, yes, indeed”. (58) The process of mirroring through which Carrie creates her identity is, however not merely a matter of dress: “it is bound with her natural acting ability”. (qtd. in Geyh, 2006: web) Able to “perceive the nature of those little modish ways which women adopt when they would presume to be something”, Carrie mimics, mirrors, the gestures of those whom she admires: “she looked in the mirror and pursed her lips, accompanying it with a little toss of the head, as she had seen the railroad treasure’s daughter do…She became a girl of considerable taste.” (78-79)

The urban environment itself offers numerous sites of such indemnificatory mirroring, “from half-lit display windows of department stores in which one might see one’s own ghostly reflection”, to posh restaurants like Sherry’s where “the floor was of a reddish hue, waxed and polished, and in every direction were mirrors-tall, brilliant, bevel-edged mirrors-reflecting and re-reflecting forms, faces, and candelabra a score and hundred times” (235) (Gyeh, 2006: web)

Looking in the mirror is often considered a form of narcissism. This is particularly evident in the store episode when Carrie looks at herself with the new clothes on. Her sense of well-being is enhanced, to the point where she starts to feel “a warm glow” (70) creep into her cheeks. This is again shown up in chapter eight, when she realizes that she is beautiful after looking in a mirror. The two antithetical potions of Carrie’s mind, her conscience and desire, make another appearance in chapter ten.

There, standing before the mirror, she sees that her face reveals a more attractive girl than she was before but her mind, “a mirror prepared of her own and the world’s opinions”(70), reveals a “worse” creature than she had been before. She wavers between these two images, uncertain of which one to believe.

The “inner” mirror, the reservoir of social and acquired moral option, must be watched closer by the reader. Sister Carrie is a study in depth of the character; what happens inside Carrie’s mind is actually far more important than her outward fortune of trials and ordeal.

Carrie’s difficulties, more basic in the recent past, have now become mental ones, “and altogether so turned about in all of her earthly relationships that she might well have been a new and different individual” (70). In the mirror she sees a pretty face, but when she looks within herself she sees an image composed of her own judgements and those of society that makes her experience a certain moral queasiness. Carrie wavers between these two reflections, wondering which one to embrace. Her conscience, “only an average little conscience” (73), is shaped by the world, her own past life, habit, and convention, all welded together in a confused way. Her conscience bothers her because she failed to live with moral correctness even before she tried. Carrie is in a “winter” mood, full of silent brooding. Nevertheless the secret of her conscience grows more and more feeble.

Before, the mirror only was an indication of vanity and represented the ability to imitate things. Now Dreiser remarks that the mirror is the symbol of a good actress as well, a “good actress serves as her own mirror to her audience” (Gyeth, 2006: web). Carrie’s vocation and power as an actress find their fullest expression on stage, where she creates not only a series of idealized versions of herself, but also an array of miniature mise-en-scène- shadow plays-of the city and its inhabitants outside. (Geyh, 2006: web) “Carrie was possessed of that sympathetic, impressionable nature which, ever in the most developed form, has been the glory of the drama. She was created with the passivity of soul which is always the mirror of the active world”, the narrator observes. (117) Carrie’s greatest ability is that she can mirror back to people that they want to see.

  • Newspapers

The frequent symbol in this novel is the employment of newspapers to designate people who are no longer capable to see the future, people that are suppressed by the past and sometimes by the present. The newspaper represents old news as it presents things that have already happened. Individuals who fall back on the newspaper thus fall into the class of have-beens, of those who already lived their life and experienced the world.

The first who reads the newspaper in the novel is Sven Hanson followed by Hurstwood. The two are reading the newspaper in the evening as a form of entertainment and because it is the only way they could find out about their own world. Hurstwood is scrolling the paper for the first time in chapter twenty. The paper symbolizes the past, and the incapacity to rise in the future. Thus, his wife is already making the decision concerning the future of the family, and the future vacation. In this scene between Hurstwood and Julia, the first finds in the newspaper a refuge from his wife’s demands and from what his entire family represented to him. This way he tries to avoid domestic quarrels and pretends to read the newspaper. By contrast Carrie, reads the paper to see if she is written about in one of its articles. The newspaper gains more importance and is more often used by Hurstwood than ever before. “Each day he could read in the evening paper” (143). Later Dreiser describes Hurstwood as spending his time reading newspapers, as the only enjoyable activity left. This again suggests that Hurstwood can only live by looking at the past rather than into the future.

The significance of newspapers reaches the pinnacle in chapter thirty five during the storm. Hurstwood is entirely ruined as a man that he uses the paper even for trivial news suc

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