Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Conflict between Individual and Society in Sister Carrie

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Conflict between Individual and Society in Sister Carrie

Article excerpt


In Sister Carrie, Dreiser drew a vivid picture of American life in the late 19th century. In this paper, the author tried to give a detailed analysis of Carrie's rise and Hurstwood's fall, and pointed out the description of all these things indicated that there was a conflict between individual and society that, to Carrie, she wanted to leave countryside for big cities for a better life through her own effort, but couldn't refuse the help and attraction from others in materialistic society so that she lost herself, and, to Hurstwood, he was also honest to his desire and leftfor a big city to begin a new life with Carrie, but he couldn't adapt himself to the environment where everyone couldn't escape the law of jungle that the weak was the prey of the strong. In the end, life was so hard for him that he had no choice but commit suicide to escape the reality.

Key words: Sister Carrie; Theodore Dreiser Conflict

Bai, J. (2014). Conflict Between Individual and Society in Sister Carrie. Studies in Literature and Language, 9 (1), 117-123. Available from: DOI:


Theodore Dreiser was one of American's greatest writers, and a great naturalist writer. He and his characters did not attack the nation's puritanical moral code, they simply ignored it, and this attitude shocked the reading public when his first novel, Sister Carrie, came out in 1900. Although we saw it as a masterpiece, it was suppressed until 1912.

The violent attacks upon Sister Carrie in the early part of 20th century were caused by its presentation of a woman who had "sinned" and not been punished for it. Worse yet, she did not even become aware that she was sinning, and simply did what she had to do to make life more tolerable-to gain a little good future with the only giftat her command. There was no agonized struggle with her conscience in Carrie when she decided to become Drouet's mistress, similarly there was no serious moral problems involved when she decided to leave him for a more sensitive and intelligent man .The only internal conflict was occasioned by an act of unkindness rather than a sexual misdeed. When Carrie decided she must save herself by deserting Hurstwood, she was unhappy, because she did not want to make anyone who had been good to her to feel bad. But self-preservation determined her action, for which Dreiser did not blame her any more than he earlier blamed Hurstwood for leaving a cold unloving family, or for the trick by which he persuaded Carrie to elope with him. Even later Carrie rose and Hurstwood declined, in Dreiser's view, both of them were victims of society, in which there were no real equality and equilibrium, but only people moved up and down. Dreiser didn't document the man's rise and fall in the long and detailed sequence, yet it was precisely through an extended contrast that readers saw both Carrie and Hurstwood were torn between the society's moral codes and their own desires.

This essay attempted to interpret the conflict between individual and society through analysis of Carrie's rise and Hurstwood's fall. By means of analysis of the background of the time when they lived, this essay tried to arouse audience's sympathy for the tragic figures-Carrie and Hurstwood.


1.1 The Background of Dreiser's Family

Theodore Dreiser was one of the American's greatest writers and a pioneer of naturalism in American writing. He wrote many works in his life, his masterpiece was Sister Carrie.

Theodore Dreiser was born in a large and impoverished German-American family in Terre Haut, Indiana, on August 27, 1871. His father, John Paul Dreiser was a weaver and wooden worker, then he became a production manager of a factory and saved enough money to built a mill of his own, but this burnt down, and he was never again able to get a good or even a steady job, and by this time Theodore was born, his father was a broken man of fifty, and felt himself too old and discouraged to have any hope of improving the family situation. …

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