This is the story of a young woman who, somewhat naively, leaves home to make a life for herself in Chicago. Unlike most novels of this sort, where the author quite predictably causes everything to fall apart at some point to teach similarly tempted other youngsters to tow the social line and stay at home, no such thing happens. At least, not to her.
Instead, Carrie finds herself befriended by men who obviously want her for her physical charms. That they should seems as natural as anything to innocent Carrie and she has no moral issues with providing their needs. She eventually marries (kind of) under circumstances that aren’t entirely clear to her for quite some time. In the end, she overcomes the difficulties that her new husband succumbs to and makes a life for herself which he can’t quite cope with. I’ll leave you to discover the rest.
Dreiser was obviously a glass-half-full kind of guy. Micawber-like, something positive is always around the corner. I think this is what makes this novel different from the others I’ve already mentioned. Morally, elders and betters (and most Brits) would feel somewhat self-satisfied to discover that Chicago was the fire that Carrie had landed in having left her native frying pan.
But Dreiser is not going to pander to such readers. Instead, he shows a woman who lands on her feet through a series of incidents which take place fortuitously to Carrie’s ultimate benefit. The fact that Carrie does almost nothing to deserve this benefit herself prevents the novel from becoming part of the feminist manifesto.
Dreiser’s moral point seems to be that the way life treats us isn’t actually as a result of our own morality. Nowadays, this is pretty much mainstream, but at the time, this would have been quite shocking and would have flown in the face of much that society took for granted. As such, it’s an important novel, but much of the impact of the novel will be lost on a modern audience.
Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | Style
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