Sister Carrie: Metaphor Analysis
When Hurstwood begins to decline in spirit in New York, in particular after he loses his position and stake in the saloon, he turns to reading and this becomes his only interest. His role in the world becomes that of a passive observer as he stops integrating in society. His final symbolic step out of society is seen to come when his eyes begin to fail him and, therefore, is no longer able to read.
The city represents the future and modernity, and a place where the past may be forgotten or erased. Through the eyes of Carrie, Chicago and New York represent places where the self may be reinvented and the past may be avoided if not wholly forgotten. This is also true of all the main characters as they choose to distance themselves from their pasts by either not discussing earlier events or by avoiding those who will remember them. This is made specific with Hurstwood most notably when he prefers not to engage in conversation with former acquaintances from Chicago when he encounters them in New York. This is also true of Carrie when she turns away from her family, Drouet and Hurstwood.
The city comes to stand for freedom from ties, but it should be remembered that Hurstwood’s fall into oblivion also acts as a warning of the dangers of obliterating one’s history in the metropolis. When he contemplates Carrie’s success on stage in New York, he understands that she has now entered the ‘walled city’. That is, she has now been accepted (and elected) into the inner sanctum of wealth and celebrity and he is firmly kept out because of his unemployment and slide into poverty. On face value, and without the knowledge of his past successes, he is only a beggar in the last few chapters of the novel as he is valued by his present state only.
Acting is ostensibly the means by which Carrie becomes successful in the latter chapters of the novel. It is also a symbol of performance and playing a role. Carrie has been learning to play the designated role of the prosperous feminine woman from when she meets Drouet and he points out the attractive qualities of other females. She teaches herself to mimic these supposed superior modes of behavior and grace and this is seen to be beneficial as she is treated with greater respect. It is also seen to play a part in Hurstwood’s infatuation with her.
This novel exposes how the rewards for being a convincing actress, on stage and in society, are far greater than if one is to work tirelessly in a shoe factory, for example.