Sister Carrie: Chapters 31-35
Despite Carrie’s initial reservations about New York, we are told in Chapter Thirty-One that she comes to be interested in this new city. In their second year of marriage, she sees that Hurstwood is no longer ‘well to do’, but accepts this change. He begins to stay out once in a while and she is not jealous of him. However, she refuses to be neglected and feels restless. Their lack of communication is demonstrated when his thoughts are revealed. He believes she is content and considers her to be thoroughly domesticated now.
To stop her feelings of boredom, Carrie gets to know her neighbors a little more. She visits them (the Vances) and they play cards. When Hurstwood appears, and she notes the way he looks at the wealthier Mrs Vance, Carrie begins to experience her old melancholy as she compares the way they both dress. This sentiment is reinforced when both women walk down Broadway and Mrs Vance is clearly the most preferred by the passers by.
In Chapter Thirty-Two, Carrie notes again how rich and well dressed others are when she and Mrs Vance leave the theater and she experiences want all the more. Her flat now seems commonplace. She is also envious of the actresses she has seen performing.
Another evening she agrees to dine with the Vances, and Mrs Vance’s cousin (Bob Ames). They eat at the opulent Sherry’s, which greatly impresses Carrie. This is undercut when Ames is mildly critical of the extravagance and she becomes admiring of his ‘wisdom’. He eschews the idea of riches, but approves of the acting profession and this impresses (and delights) her further. She contrasts Ames with Drouet and Hurstwood and believes Ames to be the wisest of the three. The chapter ends with Carrie sitting up alone, rocking in her chair, and we are told she is beginning to see. It is suggested she is beginning to see there is more to life than acquiring material possessions, but this is not stated explicitly.
The reader is told in Chapter Thirty-Three that nothing immediately resulted from Carrie’s new outlook. She does not see Ames again, at this time, but now has an ‘ideal to contrast men by - particularly men close to her’.
Meanwhile, Hurstwood continues to brood about his past life and successes and sees it as a walled city. He reads about how men he used to know are now extremely successful. He suggests they move to save money and Carrie agrees (although she fears this as it smacks of impending poverty). He then discovers that the ground his saloon is built on has been sold and it looks as though he will lose his 1,000 dollar investment as the lease will not be extended. He realizes he can no longer bluff Carrie, but says he will try to find something else.
Because of his present insecure situation, Hurstwood begins to notice in Chapter Thirty-Four how prevalent unemployment is. When the saloon closes, he is left with only 700 dollars and continues to have difficulties finding work. He has no friends in New York to call upon for assistance (as he had in Chicago) and is limited in experience. The chapter ends with him back in the flat reading the newspaper, which tells of the Vanderbilts’ holiday.
After continuing to search and apply for work in Chapter Thirty-Five, Hurstwood sits in a hotel foyer and watches people walk down Broadway. He envies their riches and freedom and this is exacerbated when two millionaires sit near him and he hears their conversation. As the days go on, he becomes more depressed. This is furthered when he sees and talks to Cargill, in a hotel lobby; this is a former acquaintance from Chicago.
He begins to stay at home more as he does not want to see people he used to know and then catches a cold. He then starts to note how Carrie could save more money in the home and his penny pinching eats the heart out of her. She views him with growing contempt, and he cannot see a way out of his apathetic state. He wears his old clothes and shaves less. He also stops looking for work. After they argue about his unemployment, she sleeps in another room from this time and this passes without comment.
The lack of communication between Carrie and Hurstwood becomes ever clearer in these chapters and their relationship becomes increasingly fraught. As demonstrated in Chapter Thirty-One, he believes she is content, whilst she is actually feeling restless and unhappy. This recognition of the consequences of failing to communicate runs throughout this novel and it reaches its crisis when these two characters are shown to distance themselves from each other. There appears to be an underlying implication that if only they would speak of their separate fears to each other, an understanding may be achieved.
These chapters also mark the descent of Hurstwood as apathy and bad fortune swamp him. It is possible to view his fruitless search for work as being drawn parallel with Carrie’s earlier job hunts in Chicago. This parallel between the two continues to the end of the novel as one rises and the other, Hurstwood, descends.
It may be said that this is a work based on contrasts as Carrie and Hurstwood suffer through comparing themselves with other, wealthier people. The use of comparisons continues when Carrie talks to Ames and she begins to think of him as an ideal. His diffidence to wealth encourages her to reconsider her values, although this does not essentially affect the pleasure she takes in owning material possessions.