A Critical Study Guide to Dreiser's Sister Carrie

A Critical Study Guide to Dreiser's Sister Carrie

A Critical Study Guide to Dreiser's Sister Carrie

A Critical Study Guide to Dreiser's Sister Carrie

Excerpt

Theodore Dreiser was born in Sullivan, Indiana, on August 27, 1871, the ninth of a family of ten living children (five sons and five daughters). Dreiser's father, aged forty-nine, had been born in Germany but in his twenties had escaped conscription there by coming to America, where he became a woolmill worker. He was a narrow-minded Catholic zealot. Dreiser's mother, Sarah Maria Schänäb, was the daughter of well-to-do Mennonite parents of Czech background but had been disowned by her anti-Catholic parents when she eloped from their Dayton, Ohio, farm home to marry a man a dozen years older than herself, in 1851.

The Dreiser couple began to experience bleak poverty in the late 1860's when the father went into debt trying to establish his own wool factory, only to see it burn uninsured. Crippled by a falling beam in addition to being without funds, he moved his family to Terre Haute, was only occasionally employed thereafter, and was humiliated by the knowledge that his energetic wife Sarah was the Dreiser clan breadwinner in her capacity as boarding-housekeeper, laundress, and scrub woman. The father found cold comfort in German prayers morning and night and in beating his children, whom he rightly regarded as wild and flirtatious. Understandably, the central women in Theodore Dreiser's first two novels -- Sister Carrie and Jennie Gerhardt -- are stronger than their men.

The early careers of some of the Dreiser children read like sections of naturalistic fiction. Paul, who later became the song- writer Paul Dresser (composer of "My Gal Sar" and "On the Banks of the Wabash"), was once imprisoned as a robbery suspect and went to jail again later when he forged his fundless father's name on a check. Rome, another brother, was a drunkard and a gambler before he was out of his teens. Mame was seduced when she was sixteen; but when she brought home some of her lover's money for groceries, her mother was sensible enough . . .

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