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christinmk

Sister Carrie- by Dreiser

Has anyone read this book? Probably just in high-school right?

I just finished this disaster of a book. I have read a ton of British lit and decided to read some American classics. I saw something about Sister Carrie on some sort of American literature show on PBS and decided to read it. I admit that what drew me to it was the prospect of juicy plot with a bawdy mistress/ actress and perhaps laced with some insightful and intelligent bits.

Dreiser is a bad writer, its as simple as that. The characters and scenes were so flat that I had a great difficulty in getting thru this book. There was little dialouge between the characters. And the authors attempts at deep thinking was hilarious. He made no sence and often contradicted his own reasoning. As another reviewer (on another site) said, this book has the literary eloquence of a phone-book. I so agree!

The characters were hard to identify with. I have to say Drouet was perhaps the most realistic and likeable of them all. At least we (the readers) knew where he was comming from. We knew he was a libertine because he did not hide that fact (or the author did not hide that from us). There was one thing I did not understand. The author kept calling Drouet 'the drummer'. What does that mean exactly? I am guessing he was not part of a rock band.

Hurstwood was bland. I thought he was a complete idiot for wrecking his life, but did feel sorry for him toward the end.

The character of Carrie was horrible. She had neither personality nor wit. And every other thing she said was "Oh, I don't know". She was a vegetable with a pretty figure. I think she was so boring because Dreiser could not make up his mind about what he wanted her to be. Maybe because Carrie was modeled after Dreiser's sister who also ran away with a married man? Perhaps he didn't want to make his sister out to look like a unfeeling slut.

Aside from that, I did not like Carrie. She was a user, self-centered, vain, ungrateful, unloyal, and greedy. But I didn't actually hate her. She was to dull and void of interest to hate.

The last quarter of this book was pretty good and lively(though it did not atone for the first three-quarters). I thought Hurstwoods fall gave some spark to it. And I was genuinely interested in his attempt to work during the workers strikes going on during that time. I thought the ending near perfect too.

But I honestly don't know what other people see in this book. Maybe some have read other books of similar plot and just 'fill in the blanks' of Sister Carrie. I think a lot like the empowered female finding out that she does not need a man to complete/provide for her also.

Don't read this book. It is a waste of time. If you are interested in the subject matter of Sister Carrie I would advise a better book. My favorites:

Anna Karenina- by Tolstoy. It has the same theme of infedelity and mistresses, but MUCH better. The characters are well rounded, interesting, and believeable. They also have opinions....

Comments (22)

  • leel
    15 years ago

    Altho I have not read Sister Carrie, I have read the other books you mentioned, and several others by Dreiser. Therefore, I can't comment on Sister Carrie. To answer your question about what a 'drummer' is: at the time Carrie was written, a drummer was a travelling salesman.

  • christinmk z5b eastern WA
    Original Author
    15 years ago

    Thanks for clearing that up for me leel. Drummer= Salesman.
    The only other book I think I can recall Dreiser having written was An American Tragedy, which I have not read and likely never will.
    What do YOU think of Dreiser's writing?
    CMK

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  • sheriz6
    15 years ago

    I read Sister Carrie for a college American Lit course and the only thing I remember about it is that it was considered shocking at the time because the main character wasn't punished for her actions but instead went on to greater success, if not happiness. This went wholly against the moral grain for novels at the time and, from what I remember, marked a turning point in what was acceptable in an American novel.

    Beyond that, I don't remember much of the book or writing style. It would certainly be interesting to go back and re-read all those 'classic' books I had in high school and college, but I'm really not sure I want to!

  • bookmom41
    15 years ago

    I've only read American Tragedy by Dreiser--but not as schoolwork. Instead, I read it a few years ago on my own for pleasure. It was wordy with a dated style so I had a bit of a struggle until I got drawn into the story which deals with the murder of a woman by her boyfriend. Loosely based on an actual crime, it was very much an examination of the morals and standards of the time as well as a reminder that one's social standing rigidly determined one's treatment in early twentieth century American life. I think "class" standards have largely gone by the wayside in the US, though perhaps not as much in the legal system.

    A friend of mine counts Sister Carrie as one of her all-time favorites so I've been meaning to read it. Anyone interested in upsetting the applecart piques my interest. Dreiser's writing style, however, does put me off.

  • christinmk z5b eastern WA
    Original Author
    15 years ago

    I didn't notice another post until just now. Thank you for writing bookmom. What was it your friend liked about Sister Carrie? I am not being snide, I am genuinely interested in other peoples opinions.
    I am so glad I am not the only one who does not like Dreiser's writing!
    CMK

  • kkay_md
    15 years ago

    One of my favorite books is An American Tragedy. I have read it at least twice, perhaps more. Dreiser is not known for having a silver tongue (or pen) but tells a good tale. This particular story never fails to draw me in.

    I had never read Sister Carrie, so did read it less than a year ago. It is loosely based on his sister's life, and I found it fascinating, and would never dismiss it as a waste of one's time to read.

    Dreiser was compelled by the intersections of money and morality, the desire for material goods and social prominence, timeless issues, really. I think it was something he wrestled with, given his background and upbringing. His books were written in the style of "naturalism" and they are a good example of that particular style.

  • bookmom41
    15 years ago

    Hmm, I don't know why she loved Sister Carrie. Actually, I can't even remember which "friend" it is--it is one of two or three in my bookclub so I will find out in another week.

    My children are middle-schoolers. Dreiser's fascination with issues of money, morality and social prominence are alive and well, played out in the teen and young adult set constantly.

  • leel
    15 years ago

    The only other book of Dreiser's that I can remember is "The Financier," whose story line is just what you would think. I can't remember too much of it, but I did enjoy it, given some dated style.

  • christinmk z5b eastern WA
    Original Author
    15 years ago

    Good to know leel.
    -kkay_md, ok I will amend what I said. It was a waste of MY time to read this book; it did nothing for me. But I am glad you got enjoyment out of it.
    I think that Tolstoy, for instance, did a better job. Tolstoy touched upon the same subjects Dreiser did, like wealth and poverty (I love the way he looks at both individually and then compares them), social status, morality, human nature and so much more. He gives an amazing look at the historical events of that time too. And he explained his philosophy about all this and gave his readers something to ponder.
    And unlike Dreiser, Tolstoy was a fantastic writer. He wrote for himself, which gives his work passion, and for his readers, which gives understanding. His characters are anything but flat; they seem like they are real people.
    I like books that lead me TO somewhere; that make me think and question things I already belive and the things around me. But I also like my journey to this understanding to be interesting. Sister Carrie did little to provoke my awareness or interest.
    CMK

  • kkay_md
    15 years ago

    CMK-Tolstoy did an undeniably good job of writing about wealth and poverty, social status, morality, etc., but please note that he was not writing about the American experience. Tolstoy expressed those issues from his own unique and Russian perspective; everything is imbued with that. I'll grant you that Tolstoy was a much more accomplished (and well-received) writer.

    Dreiser concerned himself with similar issues while writing about a uniquely American experience. His style is not smooth or poetic; his writing style is not well-adapted for a novel, and he started his career as a journalist, and it shows.

    However, I find that his work has its merits. Dreiser has a way of telling a story that is immediate and accessible. I never fail to get caught up in An American Tragedy, and feel the angst and horror of Clyde Griffith's crime, and from Clyde's perspective. Sister Carrie is likewise a uniquely American story, and I think Dreiser does a good job of capturing the conflicts from a female perspective. I don't find Dreiser's characters flat. He does not have a smooth or expressive writing style, but his characters seem real and immediate, in my opinion.

    I enjoy novels for many reasons: to learn about the author's perspective and times; for insights into culture and geography (fiction or otherwise); human dilemmas, shortcomings, and triumphs. In Dreiser's case, he was always (one way or another) writing about his own life and experience, and I find that fascinating. His book Sister Carrie was not well-received in the US (he became quite depressed over its reception) but I think it is definitely worthy of being read, and studied, within the body of American literature.

  • christinmk z5b eastern WA
    Original Author
    15 years ago

    It's good you liked it kkay_md, but I'm afraid I am tenacious in my dislike for this book.
    I agree that this book did capture some of the 'American Spirit' of the people(optomism, hard working, ambitious to be successful, etc.) and that it may provide a good look at the minute details of the habits of the people of that time period. BUT I didn't think this book gave a good look at the historical occurences of the time. I was mightily dissapointed at that.
    There were two parts in particular that I wished Dreiser would have explained and expanded. The first was when Carrie started work in that workshop. I wanted to know of the toil and agony the factory workers had to go through. The second was when Hurstwood tried to work as a conductor and was stopped by the workers who were on strike. I would loved to have known more about the strikes against the workshops etc. of the time.

    Like you, I have diffrent expectations for the books I read. If I am not entertained I at least expect to learn something (either of that time period, the people, or some insightful lesson). I was neither entertained, nor did I learn anything (except maybe that a 'drummer' is a salesman) ;-)
    I usually try to give an author a second chance to redeem themselves. I may read An American Tragedy someday, you never know.

    Happy reading!
    CMK

  • rouan
    15 years ago

    chrstinmk

    I had to read Sister Carrie for an American Lit course I took in college several years ago. I'm afraid I'm not a fan either. I thought it a dismal, depressing book (as I found all the books assigned to us in this class that were written during this time frame). I almost laughed when I saw your description of Carrie as a vegetable. While I would not have described her that way myself, I have to tell you that my impression of her was that she just sat around in a chair waiting for something to happen. She didn't have any inititative. Of course, this was 20 years ago, but my dislike of the story was so strong that I doubt I will ever try to read it again.

  • christinmk z5b eastern WA
    Original Author
    15 years ago

    Good to hear from you rouan. You must hate it as much as me to have remembered it that long!
    I didn't find this book depressing so much as dull and ineffecutal. I am curious that you found other books of this time (also in America or everywhere?) dismal. I am trying to think of other books of this time that I have read but am not comming up with anything as of yet...
    CMK

  • kkay_md
    15 years ago

    Ah, if you found Sister Carrie depressing, don't try McTeague by Frank Norris, also of the "naturalism" genre in American literature around this time.

    These novels are about people who are swept along by events--their protagonists are meant to be depicted as flotsam in the river of life, not having a lot of choice or voice in their fates (that is, "nature" takes its course). A school of thought or a philosophy expressed through the novel. Carrie's passivity was, in part, an expression of that philosophy.

  • christinmk z5b eastern WA
    Original Author
    15 years ago

    -Kay (would you mind very much if I called you that kkay_md?), I read something about this not to long ago in fact. It was very breif, but it answered many questions. Naturalism was one of the styles/philosophies that sought to answer the question of how much of thier destinies humans control. Romanticism belived that man was supreme and had control over his destiny almost entirely; he was naturally good inside. It dealt more with ideals I think. Wasn't Ralph Waldo Emmerson part of the Romanticism?
    Realism was a responce to the old Romanticism. Realists simply sought to portray human actions and feelings in a realistic way. The great Mark Twain was classed in this movement along with Henry James and Upton Sinclair.
    Naturalism, a distant branch of Realism, was the belief that one's environment shaped a person's destiny; for the most part, a person did not have a say in his own fate.
    Dreiser was considered one of the best writers in the naturalism movement. I beilive Zola, Crane, and Wharton were also consered to be part of that movement too.

    I really love Twain, but I am afraid I have not read many of the other authors I noted (at least not yet ;-)).
    I suppose I would class myself as more of a Realist. I belive man DOES have a say in his own destiny, but that he is often thwarted by his environment and society. So I guess I belive partially in both.
    Do you guys lean to any one of those philosophies? Do you think that preferance determines which style of writing you like better? I know I liked Twain because of his simplistic and realistic style. I disliked 'Sister Carrie' because the writing was, in my opinion, bad and the characters flat, not because I do not wholly agree with the naturalism movement.
    CMK

  • kkay_md
    15 years ago

    Hi CMK-Yes, "Kay" is fine (it's my middle name).

    I don't personally subscribe to the philosophy of naturalism (of people being essentially the product of their environment and events), but I do find it fascinating when played out in literature. I personally prefer to believe that we have a degree of influence over the direction our lives take, but that is a somewhat modern outlook, in the realm of things. So my outlook is quite different from that of naturalism.

    Note that I am not saying that Dreiser's writing style is beautiful. I think he's an awkward writer, with clunky phrasing and awkward sentences. But in spite of these drawbacks, I think he tells a compelling story, from a unique perspective.

    I enjoy Twain but I find his work to be VERY stylized; writers like Dreiser and Norris presented their characters as unadorned, and I think of their style as more like a documentary than a film, if you follow my meaning. They sought to depict the character in as real an environment as possible, stripped down to their instincts and basic acts. I think of Twain as being much more involved as a writer, and with characters who answered (sometimes) a higher calling--and Twain's whole approach was suffused with humor, which added his voice in a way that Dreiser or Norris did not attempt--they seemed to want to remove the auteur, and let the characters stumble about at will. So you won't get the entertaining or elevating voice that Twain might give to a humble character--you will get a much less adorned character--"flat" if you will.

    My own tastes in literature run quite a gamut. I don't think I'm much influenced in what I enjoy by my personal outlook or philosophies. I'm very curious about how other people experience life and express it through writing, and I enjoy a broad range of different styles, schools, and approaches.

    When you think about it, we are all products of our times and the opportunities that present themselves. I think that's what I find fascinating about this particular school (naturalism) because it strips that element down to its most basic, and depicts characters as having very little free will. It's quite contrary to the "American way" of course, which makes it all the more interesting to me. I'm always fascinated by how people make choices--or don't.

    K

  • christinmk z5b eastern WA
    Original Author
    15 years ago

    I didn't like Sister Carrie, but am now rather glad I read it, if only because such an interesting talk came from it.

    I have thought that the naturalists do not focus enough on the individual. If they observed the individual they would see that a person's descision (good or bad) often determines thier entire future. We often see that a person can wreck his whole life by one single bad choice.

    Kay, that is a very good point in the diffrences of their writing, and I do understand your meaning.
    Many authors can place the reader in a position where they feel they are PART of the story, but do not affect what goes on; their presence does not determine what happens. The characters of the story would do the exact same thing if you (the reader) are there to witness the events or not. And I do grant that this is the form Dreiser adopted with great ease.
    There is something in Twain's work (n.b. that I have only read two of Twain's books) that seems a trifle 'staged'. It is as if the characters know someone is watching and put on a good livly show because of it.
    What I love about Twain though is his simplistic writing. He does not clobber a reader over the head trying to get his point across. With so few strokes he paints a vivid picture.

    There is one similarity I find interesting between realism and naturalism writing. From what I have read of naturalism, those wrighting about it (Dreiser, etc.) like to show those dull, repetitious daily lives of their characters. Realists (at least Twain, I have not read much else by noted realist authors) do the same thing but the result is much diffrent.

    With Dreiser, the look at the everyday existance of his characters is rather bleak and depressingly monotonous. But with Twain he shows those humorous little things that DO transpire in an average persons day that make even the dullest existance bearable.
    CMK

  • kkay_md
    15 years ago

    Ah, but you base your criticism of Dreiser ("the look at everyday existence of his characters is rather bleak and depressingly monotonous") on one book. And I think it's a matter of opinion, too, about whether Dreiser's account of Carrie's life is monotonous. I thought the evolution of her affections, the interactions with other characters, and her ambitions (such as they were) were rather fascinating.

    And Dreiser's philosophy seems to be that the individual does not have a great deal of choice--that "fate" presents situations that the individual finds hard to resist. His observations about Carrie emphasize that he felt that opportunities presented themselves to her, and she usually took the path of least resistance. So he was indeed observing the individual--he just didn't have a lot of faith that our impulses or instincts would lead us to the finer and more elevated things in life.

    And Carrie DOES make choices at the forks in the road. She decides not to work in a factory job. She accepts money and becomes a kept woman. Her objective seem concentrated on getting and maintaining creature comforts. And yet, ultimately, she is dissatisfied. The material goods and easy life that seemed so appealing to her (when she was deciding against factory work) have not provided the pleasure and satisfaction she had longed for.

    For me, it is this tension that provides the impetus for the story--not like the lively and entertaining antics of characters in Mark Twain's tales. The conflict and tension in Sister Carrie is expressed in the series of small, everyday choices that she made, much as we make them in our own everyday lives. Her decisions added up over time, a small trickle of choices; thus a life is held in account. It's not epic or grand, by any means. The scale of the story is quite small. That's something I like about it.

  • christinmk z5b eastern WA
    Original Author
    15 years ago

    I admited that I had not read much from those authors during either the realism or naturalism movement. I did not say that I personally thought the book depressing or that Carrie's life was monotonous. I was just commenting on what I had read, which said that authors of the naturalism movement often showed the dull everyday lives of people.

    I am criticising the book Sister Carrie, not Dreiser himself or his other works (as I have not read them). I also said above that "I usually try to give an author a second chance to redeem themselves. I may read An American Tragedy someday, you never know. "
    I do not hold anything against Dreiser, lol. I was quite prepared to like this book and am willing to give any of his other works a chance too.
    It may take me awhile to get around to reading his other books though. I have about fourteen books on my desk waiting to be read and also a long list of other classics I have to read.

    I have never debated philosophy or books before, so do forgive me if things come out wrong or confusing.

    True, Carrie did make some of her own descisions. Naturalists (*according to what I have read on the subject*)belive that environment shapes a person's character. Carrie was a direct representation of her environment. She showed how her society was based on materialism, capitalism, and consumerism. She wanted THINGS in life. Everything she did was based on her materialistc desires.
    CMK

  • kkay_md
    15 years ago

    CMK-I know--so many books, so little time. If you do read An American Tragedy, start a thread. I'd enjoy discussing that one.

    I am no authority on Dreiser or realism or naturalism, but I've enjoyed thinking about these things.
    Have you read Madame Bovary (Flaubert)? It would be an interesting book to compare, in discussion, to Sister Carrie.

    K

  • christinmk z5b eastern WA
    Original Author
    15 years ago

    I will certainly start a thread when I read An American Tragedy.
    I have enjoyed our chat immensly too. I am very glad to have found a site where the people are civil and can agree to disagree!
    Funny you should mention Madame Bovary. I just put in on my To Be Read List the other day. I had about ten classic books on my list, then suddenly I have fifty-six. I just don't know how it is these things happen...
    I will post a discussion on that too when I read it.
    Take care.
    CMK

  • kathy_t
    15 years ago

    I am browsing RP after a long absence. I just want to comment that I found this to be a really interesting discussion, even though I haven't read a single thing by Theodore Dreiser. This kind of lively, intelligent discussion is why I keep returning to RP over the years. Thanks to those who posted. -- Kathy