Duality of Desire: Dreiser's Novel, Sister Carie

Topics: Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser, An American Tragedy Pages: 5 (2240 words) Published: April 29, 2014
Zabria Williams
Kristy Medvetz
English Honor P4
03.04.14
The Duality of Desire in Dreiser's Sister Carrie

First novel by Theodore Dreiser, published in 1900, but was on hold until 1912. Sister Carrie tells the story of a rudderless but pretty small town girl who comes to the big city filled with vague ambitions. She is used by men and uses them in turn to become a successful Broadway actress, while George Hurstwood, the married man who she later gets married to in the has run away with her from Chicago loses his grip on life and descends into beggary and suicide. Sister Carrie was the first masterpiece of the American naturalistic movement in a way that doesn’t punish her for acting like a tart. The book's strengths include a brooding but compassionate view of humanity, a memorable cast of characters, and a compelling narrative line. The emotional disintegration of Hurstwood is a much-praised triumph of psychological analysis. Sister Carrie is a work of pivotal importance in American literature, and it became a model for subsequent American writers of realism. Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie was not widely accepted after it was published, although it was not completely withdrawn by its publishers, as some sources say it was. Neither was it received with the harshness that Dreiser reported. For example, the Toledo Blade reported that the book “is a faithful portraiture of the conditions it represents, showing how the tangle of human life is knotted thread by thread” but that it was “too realistic, too somber to be altogether pleasing”. There is also the receipt of sale, Doubleday sent to Dreiser showing that Sister Carrie was not withdrawn from of the shelves, reporting that 456 copies of the 1,008 copies printed were sold. Sister Carrie evoked different responses from the critics, and although the book did not sell well among the general public, it often received positive reviews.Some of the reason for lack of sales came from a conflict between Dreiser and his publishers, who did little to promote the book.Despite this, critics did praise the book, and a large number of them seemed most affected by the character of Hurstwood, such as the critic writing for the New Haven Journal Courier, who proclaimed, “One of the most affecting passages is where Hurstwood falls, ruined, disgraced”. Edna Kenton in the Chicago Daily News said in 1900 that Sister Carrie is “well worth reading simply for this account ofHurstwood”.Reviews mentioned the novel’s realistic depiction of the human condition. A 1901 review in The Academy said that Sister Carrie was “absolutely free from the slightest trace of sentimentality or pettiness, and dominated everywhere by a serious and strenuous desire for truth”.The London Express claimed that realism made the book appealing: “It is a cruel, merciless story, intensely clever in its realism, and one that will remain impressed in the memory of the reader for many a long day”. The novel has also been praised for its accurate depiction of the protests in New York and the city life in Chicago. Negative response to the novel came largely from the book’s sexual content, which made Sister Carrie, in the words of the Omaha Daily Bee in 1900, “not a book to be put into the hands of every reader indiscriminately”.Another review in Life criticized Carrie’s success, and warned “Such girls, however, as imagine that they can follow in her footsteps will probably end their days on the Island or in the gutter”. The book was also criticized for never mentioning the name of God .Several critics complained the title made the book sound as if the main character is a nun. The title of the book was considered by The Newark Sunday News to be the “weakest thing about the book” because it “does not bear the faintest relation to the story”]Similarly, Frederic Taber Cooper in The Bookman declared it to be a “colourless and misleading title”. Other common complaints were about the length of the book and that it is so...
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