Characterization in Sister Carrie
The theme of unrequited love and unfulfilled ambitions, against a backdrop of a nation being transformed by industrialism and capitalism, provides the substance of Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie. During the late 19th Century we encounter three main characters who demonstrate this underlying motif: Carrie Meeber, Charles H. Drouet, and George W. Hurstwood. Carrie will fulfill many of her desires for riches and success, but her insatiable appetite will leave her feeling dissatisfied at the end of the novel and all alone. With respect to the two men who most covet her affections, Charles Drouet and George Hurstwood we have a study in contrasts. About the only thing Drouet and Hurstwood have in common is that they both desire Carrie's love. Both Drouet and Hurstwood love Carrie, but Drouet is a materialist and Hurstwood is a romanticist - a fact that will enable Drouet to survive the loss of Carrie as Hurstwood commits suicide over the loss.
From early in the novel we see Drouet established as a representative of the new America - industrialism, capitalism, and nouveau riche successes. When Carrie meets Drouet on the train, his manners and fine dress impress her but they are only a cover for an identity that believes he needs to impress others to be successful. In other words, Drouet's manners and attitudes are put on like so many new clothes, discarded when they no longer fit his purposes. However, it is exactly these superficial qualities that impress Carrie Meeber, a young woman on her way to Chicago to make her way in the world. Carrie eventually succumbs to the clothes, money, and housing Drouet lavishes on her, but it is her desires and his money that unite them in vain. Still, the Carries of the world are necessary for the Drouets of the world to exist. They are a sign of the new industrial nation and the growing phenomena of consumerism. As Eby (2) notes, "Carrie is not one to submit to a solemn round of industry while postponing gratification. Appropriately, Carrie's first lover is a drummer or traveling salesman who goes on the road to market his company's wares."
Neither Carrie nor Drouet produce anything. Carrie uses her natural beauty and charms to consume the goods Drouet's money provides, but Drouet only makes his money from moving goods not producing them. As much as neither Carrie nor Drouet produce anything tangible, they are both necessary kinds of people in the new industrial nation. Eby (2) confirms this reasoning, "Drouet produces nothing tangible to sell, but the efforts of thousands like him kept goods moving to their ultimate destination, consumers. Potential buyers like Carrie with easily manipulible desires are also essential: without desire, the consumer economy stalls."
Drouet is written like a character who might become someone like Willy Loman should he ever settle down and marry and raise children. This is because he is...