Sister Carrie: Dreiser's Reversal Of Male/Female Roles
The novel, "Sister Carrie" seems to be the platform from
which Dreiser explores his unconventional views of the
genders. In the world of Sister Carrie, it would seem that
the role of women as trusting, caring creatures, and men as
scheming victimizers is reversed; it is Carrie that uses
the men around her to get what she wants, and it is those
men who are victimized by her. Thus Dreiser uses this novel
as a means of questioning the popular notions of gender and
the role that it plays in modern society. 

In "Sister Carrie", it would seem that Carrie, while
outwardly benign, and possibly even deserving of her
portrayal as sweet and innocent at the beginning, soon
emerges as a ruthless predator in the guise of a helpless
woman. From her relationship with Drouet, she manages to
gain the experience and social skills to pursue higher
aspirations. She seems to stay with Drouet only long enough
to see that better things are available, comforts more
extravagant than Drouet can provide, and cultural
experiences and social nuances whose existence Drouet seems
unaware of. Drouet, then, acts as a stepping stone for her.
When he no longer has anything he can offer her, she drops
him in favor of Hurstwood. In Hurstwood, Carrie sees all
that lacks in Drouet--a more acute sense of culture and
worldliness, and the wealth to explore the new wonders of
civilized Chicago life. Hurstwood serves as yet another
step in her ladder to success, and when he sinks into
poverty and self-disgrace after his divorce, she sees him
as a no longer being an asset, and leaves him in favor of
striking out on her own, leaving him to turn into a beggar,
while she makes it big. 
After she makes it big, and Drouet comes to see her, she
can no longer see him as a friend worthy of her company,
and in fact avoids ever seeing him again. The fact that she
owes her success to Drouet and Hurstwood seems
inconsequential to her. It would seem also at the end of
her road to fame, when she is receiving social invitations
from millionaires and famous figures, that she sees herself
as being too good for any of them; she sees herself as
being too good for the company of any man. This aggressive,
self-centered nature, seems to be a departure from the
traditional role of a woman in a such a novel.
It can be said, then, that Carrie's bullish nature is
rather atypical of the traditionally portrayed role of a
woman. The fact that the men in this novel are the ones
being preyed upon, seems to make this a reversal of roles.
It can be argued that Dreiser's intention may have been in
part to show how women do not need increased liberties to
succeed in the modern world, but rather that they've been
in control of their situations for as long as there have
been men in the world to prey upon. This would seem to be
what Dreiser really intends by this definite reversal of
male-female roles. 


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