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Identity In Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie

1181 words - 5 pages

Identity in Theodore Dreiser?s Sister Carrie is noticeably related to the deceptive world of performance. The characters? sense of self seems to be based exclusively on the money and other commodities he or she possesses; it is also portrayed to be constantly enacted as a theatrical role. Social identities are no more real than acted roles on stage, since they are all performed. Dreiser structurally contrast the rising and falling; success and failure of Carrie and Hurstwood through their performances. Chapters 38-42 in Sister Carrie, show the contrast between Hurstwood?s theatrical aspects of the strike and Carrie?s chorus line in the theater through Hurstwood?s role and performance in the strike and Carrie?s performance on stage. Dreiser, through the upward and downward movements of each Carrie and Hurstwood, are directly overlapped, showing how they represent a single person?s life rather than two separate beings.In chapter 38, Dreiser draws an analogy between the type of work Carrie is doing and the common laborers. He states, ?Girls who can stand in a line and look pretty are as numerous as laborers who can swing a pick? (276). This is the job that Carrie gets, one that is replaceable and meaningless. Working in a ditch is far lower than being in a Broadway show in terms of status, yet the work is compared as if identical. Later in the novel Hurstwood gets a job as a motorman, which is also important to the novel because it is a staged event. Hurstwood is facing reality for the first time with this strike. Though in these two jobs they both have the role of acting and Carrie?s motions get her more stardom as Hurstwoods motions get him further into his downfall. This shows the rise of Carrie and how she is taking over the role of higher statues in society as Hurstwood is beginning to take over the role that Carrie had in the beginning of the novel.Carrie?s success and Hurstwood?s downfall can be interpreted from this outlook to be a result of her innate knowledge of identity?s performance and his emptiness of it. The difference is that while Carrie, pushed by her need, gradually learns to play the game of identity-performance, Hurstwood forgets that his social statues requires constant performance and eventually loses his drive to perform at all. In New York Hurstwood indulges himself in unproductive newspaper-readings and memories of the past so pathetically that he gradually excludes himself from the society. Hurstwood?s miserable life in his unemployed and homeless period reveals suffering; it is also obvious that ever since his affair with Carrie he has lost not only his former social standing but his ability to perform successfully in society. The difference between Carrie and Hurstwood, however, is that she sees the materialistic aspect and reflects upon her social situation, where he indulges himself in its misery and is carried away from his immediate social environment.It is therefore little wonder that when Hurstwood eventually...

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