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The Protagonist In Sister Carrie By Theodore Dreiser

1631 words - 7 pages

The picture of the protagonist that Theodore Dreiser’s novel, Sister Carrie, portrays is only a half-truth. By examining Sister Carrie’s character, she is readily deemed as passive, weak, and full of superficial desires and yet in this profoundly inert nature lies the seed for the greater expression of an artistic soul. However, this realization is only drawn out by Ames’s archetypically scholarly eyes (the intelligent but withdrawn engineer); bringing forth the powerful and intimate beauty that Carrie possesses, which without a photograph, the reader would forever remain blind to. Nevertheless, as Ames draws out the riches of Carrie’s humanity, he delineates yet another ideal, the ideal of the artist, which lies far away from the comfort that Carrie covets, and consequently forever constrains her happiness to the heights of her own longing—something that she has never surpassed. Accordingly, as Carrie progresses towards decadence she falls deeper into alienation and loneliness, and through Ames, towards even greater passivity.
The novel steadfastly and in detail presents Carrie’s associations with her two lovers, Drouet and Hurstwood, citing her interactions with them as basis for her character. Hence, the idea develops that she is a weak and passive woman, guided only by a desire to attain an affluent life, where “self interest” is “her guiding characteristic” (p2). In other words, a personality that borders on the pathetic. What little individuality and uniqueness she exhibits as a young woman in search of work in the vast, ruthless city, quickly succumbs to the stylish wealth and passion of the two men. This takes no effort on the part of Drouet, where with his fine clothes and speech, instantly impresses on “her a dim world of the fortune, of which he was the center. It disposed her pleasantly toward all he might do” (p6). Since Drouet associates himself with all the outwardly wonderful possibilities of the city, she is drawn towards him – not from the usual attraction of men and women, but only for the world that he embodies. Moreover, this attraction simply overrides Carrie’s struggling conscience, which “would appear only when the pleasant side was not too apparent, when Drouet was not there,” leaving her a “victim of the city’s hypnotic influence” (p75, 65).
Furthermore, Carrie’s affection for the “superior” Hurstwood, who with his style and easy manners, represents yet another higher stratum and thus misleads her emotions and smoothly sways her unreasoning mind since “there was so much enthusiasm engendered that she was believing herself deeply in love. She sighed as she thought of her handsome adorer … they would be happy” (p163). This self-delusion is fully exposed when her relationship with Hurstwood is brought into sudden question. She hangs “in quandary, balancing between indecision and helplessness” until finally Hurstwood’s passion for her renewing “youth and freshness” re-conquers her (p218). Ultimately, Carrie’s own goals in...

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