Read Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser Free Online
Book Title: Sister Carrie|
The author of the book: Theodore Dreiser
Edition: Tantor Media
Date of issue: September 5th 2006
ISBN 13: 9781400132706
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 438 KB
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Reader ratings: 4.6
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Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie was the first real book I've ever read in English. I was 11, my mother just bought me a brand-spanking-new English dictionary, and my school librarians finally let me roam the section of the library where normally kids were not allowed to wreck havoc in on their own. Awed by the idea of a big book in a language I just started to somewhat understand, I reached for it, just missing the much more age-appropriate Treasure Island - but then why'd you think I'd ever want to follow rules?
Needless to say, the combination of Dreiser being way over my head, my limited English skills and only so much patience an 11-year-old would have with a dictionary, I soon enough started getting distracted by the afternoon episodes of Duck Tales, and therefore my memory of this book has long been just a bit fuzzy.
And so I read it again with a set of grown-up eyeballs, sans dictionary this time, armed with a few more gray hairs (all twenty of them) and a hint of a wrinkle.
“When a girl leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse.” This book was quite scandalous for its times - vulgar, immoral, risqué. It was ready to shake up the moral standards of its time with the unacceptable storyline: a young poor provincial woman Carrie Meeber comes to Chicago, gets disillusioned with "honest" overworked poverty, and before you know it, shacks up with first one man, then another (a married one, at that), and far from being suitably punished for such an immoral approach to life becomes a successful celebrated actress rolling in riches. Sordid, indeed!
It's the American Dream shown in all its dirty unattractiveness, nothing covered up by the gilded pretentiousness of class-correctness and faux piety, with the scathing understanding of the evils of desolate hopeless poverty. Dreiser does not hold back, casually telling it how it is, without any preachiness or squeamishness. Sordid, indeed! “She knew that out in Chicago this very day the same factory chamber was full of poor homely-clad girls working in long lines at clattering machines; that at noon they would eat a miserable lunch in a half-hour; that Saturday they would gather, as they had when she was one of them, and accept the small pay for work a hundred times harder than she was now doing. Oh, it was so easy now! The world was so rosy and bright.”
Dreiser does not cut his heroine any slack. There are no illusions about the personality of Carrie Meeber. She has no redeeming qualities of excessive piety, unearthly compassion, admirable selflessness, exceptional kindness, awe-inspiring talent. She instead is a moderately-talented, practical and a bit selfish young woman longing for the beauty of life which to her quite circumscribed middle-class mind consists of comfortable life in pretty clothes and beautiful apartment, surrounded by everything that glitters but is not necessarily gold. Dreiser's descriptions of her mind and ambitions are frequently quite scathing: “Self-interest with her was high, but not strong. It was, nevertheless, her guiding characteristic.”
“And yet she was interested in her charms, quick to understand the keener pleasures of life, ambitious to gain in material things.”
“Her imagination trod a very narrow round, always winding up at points which concerned money, looks, clothes, or enjoyment.” And yet Carrie does not need idealization or overwrought characterization to feel so real and alive through the pages of Dreiser's novel. And, unlike her almost-contemporaries Anna Karenina, Edna Pontellier and Emma Bovary, Carrie does not pay the price of death for daring to live the life that does not conform to the pre-defined ideal; instead, she thrives - even if it in Dreiser's wistful vision does not live up to any high standards: “Know, then, that for you is neither surfeit nor content. In your rocking-chair, by your window dreaming, shall you long, alone. In your rocking-chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel.” A woman without much agency, drifting on the waves of life that happen to take her into the direction of richness and fame? This was an accusation flung at Carrie from time to time. But consider that Carrie was never expected to have any agency whatsoever, instead expected to fulfill her role in society either as a pretty decoration or a choiceless drudge - and her refusal to accept these choices to me spells out enough agency to cause many a frown on the critics' faces in the early 1900s.
Not an ideal woman? No, of course. But the rebellious, tenacious even if simple personality of Carrie Meeber just highlights the ridiculousness of the ideal itself (meek, docile, forever understanding, endlessly supportive, quietly content). She will paddle out no matter into which depths you throw her to drown, regardless of what means she has to use.
Besides Carrie, it's not the pathetic figures of her suitors, Drouet and Hurstwood, that are at the center of the novel. No, it's the idea of a big city - Chicago and New York - in the world just shaking off the confines of small towns in the agricultural society, the allure of fast life, of industry, of loud sounds and bright colors and frenzy of crowds of people, all in the several square miles of the vortex of human life, so beckoning and yet so coldly cruel. "The city has its cunning wiles, no less than the infinitely smaller and more human tempter. There are large forces which allure with all the soulfulness of expression possible in the most cultured human. The gleam of a thousand lights is often as effective as the persuasive light in a wooing and fascinating eye. Half the undoing of the unsophisticated and natural mind is accomplished by forces wholly superhuman. A blare of sound, a roar of life, a vast array of human hives, appeal to the astonished senses in equivocal terms."
The city beckons and seduces, but refuses to nurture those it attracts. Carrie is left on her own, to fend for herself, to make her way in life - or rather, to drift on the waves of the stubborn stream of life, busy paddling along and trying not to drown.
And so in Dreiser's description you can't help but feel both the alluring call and the warning caution of the fascinating world, still so new in those times, so fresh, so dangerous and so inevitable.
There was something about this book from over a century ago that continued to speak to me through the years, to fascinate me, to make me think and feel and experience things it needed me to. And I loved it for all of that. 4 stars.
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Read information about the authorTheodore Herman Albert Dreiser was an American novelist and journalist. He pioneered the naturalist school and is known for portraying characters whose value lies not in their moral code, but in their persistence against all obstacles, and literary situations that more closely resemble studies of nature than tales of choice and agency.
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