By the later part of the 1800’s New York and Chicago were some of the largest cities in the world and both had populations that exceeded a million. With the growing population, the economy’s stability began to fluctuate. The instability within the states gave rise to two distinct populations within America, the upper and the working classes. Theodore Dreiser, knowing the volatile state America was built upon, highlighted the economic differences between the wealthy and the poor in his novel Sister Carrie.
During the eighteenth century, America had transformed from a simple homestead into an ornate country. Within the bustling empire, the wealthy were able to live lavish lifestyle that inspired the idea of the “American Dream.” The “American Dream” was a common belief that the poorest person in the United States could achieve success. With the circulation of this ideal there was a boom of immigration within America. People from all over the world traveled to America with the belief that they would be guaranteed freedom, safety, and prosperity. Unfortunately for many, The “American Dream” was an elusive lifestyle that was a complete contradiction to the realties that existed within the country. Life in America was harsh. There was little opportunity for advancement for most people, especially the lower class workers. Unemployment was steadily rising and working conditions were best described as atrocious.
In the late 1800’s the socio-economic system within America began to change. There was a boom of commercial enterprise, which was a result of mass Industrialization. Banks, Railroads, and Factories seemed to sprout up in a matter of months. With the sudden change in enterprises there also came a shift in material longing. With the sudden increase in production people could buy clothes, automobiles, and other items at an unheard of rate. The rich were driven to own the latest and greatest new items, while the poor worked to help make such things exist.
As a result of this sudden greed in possessions, material assets became a symbol of social class, or rather wealth. To have more it became crucial for the rich to earn more and more money. A paycheck therefore became a symbol of one’s progress and notoriety in America.
The rich began to make extraordinary amounts of money, becoming millionaires in what seemed like overnight. The lower class workers, on the other hand, were making sums that barely paid for daily living expenses. In Dreiser’s novel, Hurstwood and Carrie’s represent the two differing incomes of the upper and lower class.
Hurstwood, while working for the motorway, must work grueling hours and must endure physical and mental abuse for little more than twenty dollars a week. His pay, though higher than the sums many workers received in the later 1800’s, left him poor and miserable.
In comparison, Carrie, a rising actress and socialite, works a rather easy job in which she has little to do but glare at an audience. Unlike...