Sister Carrie: Chapters 21-25
When Hurstwood meets Carrie, in Chapter Twenty-One, he wants to talk about his feelings for her but finds he is fishing for words. She is depicted as being in a ‘hopeless quandary’ when he asks her to leave Drouet. She is almost deluded into thinking she has a ‘lively passion’ for Hurstwood and is attracted by his appearance, but says she does not know if she can come away with him. She is not agreeable to change and feels safer with Drouet. However, she does like Hurstwood and is keen to secure her rights ‘as a good woman’ (that is, to marry him) and he says they can marry anytime. He agrees to do so on Saturday when she asks and his reason is seen to be overcome by passion.
Chapter Twenty-Two moves to Mrs Hurstwood and her increasing jealousy. This is deepened when Dr Beale asks her why she did not acknowledge him when she was travelling with Hurstwood. She knows he did not see her travelling with him and pretends it was Jessica instead, although she knows it could not have been, and refrains from mentioning it to Hurstwood until she has more proof that he has been unfaithful. Her suspicions are raised all the more when she is at the races and one of the Elks mentions her absence from the play (in which Carrie appeared). He also says it was a shame she could not make it and is sorry to hear she has been ill. On further enquiry, she discovers other men took their wives.
When Hurstwood comes home that night, she is quietly furious with him. She demands money for a holiday and he is amazed at her coldness. He denies driving out with another woman, but she does not believe him. She informs him she will talk to a lawyer if he (Hurstwood) will not speak to her.
In Chapter Twenty-Three, Carrie is doubtful about promising to marry Hurstwood as she is comfortably situated and frightened that change may result in her losing what she has gained. She is not so certain of her decision when she is away from him.
When Drouet returns home, he questions her as to whether Hurstwood came over as frequently as the chambermaid claimed. He then warns her to have nothing to do with him as he is a married man. This shocks Carrie and her reaction tells Drouet that she has been seeing him, even though she denied it initially. She proceeds to tell Drouet off for introducing her to Hurstwood and accuses him of making a toy of her. Despite her transference of anger, Drouet is sympathetic when she attempts to leave with nothing as he knows she has nowhere to go. He says she may stay in the rooms for a month and he will leave. She independently decides not to see Hurstwood anymore and thinks of how Drouet has been kind. However, when she continues to blame Drouet (for introducing her to Hurstwood), Drouet leaves the flat in jealous anger as he sees she genuinely cared for Hurstwood.
Chapter Twenty-Four returns to Hurstwood, and how he is staying downtown after the argument with his wife. Unbeknownst to him, she has decided to demand regular payments from him and her word will be law in the future. She is also determined to hire a lawyer and a private detective. Hurstwood remembers that he has property in her name and he will lose his manager’s position if she ‘raises a row’. To make matters worse (for him), Carrie is not in the park as they arranged and there is no letter for him either. He receives a letter from his wife, though, in which she demands money and he refuses to send any. A second note from his wife informs him if he does not pay her the amount she requires she will let his bosses know about his affair. He takes a cab to his home, but cannot get in as he has been bolted out.
He returns to his office in Chapter Twenty Five and considers his predicament. He finally decides to consider sending his wife some money. By Monday, he still has not heard from Carrie (and is unaware that she now knows he is married), but receives a letter from his wife’s solicitor which asks to see him immediately. On Wednesday, he receives another solicitor’s letter saying that if he does not come to see them and ‘compromise’ by Thursday at 1 pm, they will file for divorce and alimony. His response is to put the letters together and walk around the block. His blood is boiling at the thought of being forced to make such decisions and to be asked to make a compromise.
These chapters reveal the inner turmoil that Hurstwood undergoes as he swings between wanting conformity and a settled life, and desiring Carrie. His indecision in these chapters is notable, as in Chapter Twenty-Five, for example, when he considers his problems, but is unable to act decisively.
One may see this portrayal of Hurstwood, in these and later chapters, as attempts at depicting unconscious and conscious struggles. Dreiser avoids using a simplistic line of reasoning as he tries to capture Hurstwood’s internal conflicts. This indecision is also evident in the depiction of Carrie’s thoughts as she switches between saying she wants to marry Hurstwood and then backtracking in Chapter Twenty-Three to consider the worry of losing her present comfortable position.