Sister Carrie: Chapters 36-40
Chapter Thirty-Six begins with Mrs Vance presuming Carrie had left New York as she has not heard from her since she (Carrie) moved. She is pleased to see Mrs Vance, but is not keen on her visiting their home as she will see their straitened circumstances.
The narrative shifts to Hurstwood who plays poker hoping to increase his money (of course), but ends up losing sixty dollars. At home he dons his old clothes once more, and upsets Carrie by answering the door in this attire when Mrs Vance calls round. They argue once more and Carrie claims she thought their marriage was legally binding (although this is somewhat unlikely).
Hurstwood leaves and dines at a hotel on his rapidly decreasing sum of money, as he craves comfort in his apathy. He can no longer bear to think about the future. He then plays poker again and loses 95 dollars; he only has 190 left now. For the next two days he continues to live like a gentleman, spending a further 30 dollars and comes to his senses when Carrie tells him the rent is due.
In Chapter Thirty-Seven, Hurstwood reveals to Carrie how little money he has left and she considers trying to get into acting again. He is at first reluctant for her to do this, as he is worried she will forsake him, but comes to see that she must get work. When she leaves to visit theatrical agents, he feels stirrings of shame.
She continues looking for employment in Chapter Thirty-Eight and finds there are many women in a similar position. She finally lands a place in a chorus line and begins rehearsals. She is to be paid 12 dollars a week and wants to keep it for herself. Hurstwood has to appeal to her to use it for both of them.
Chapter Thirty-Nine begins a month later, in September, and Hurstwood still has not found work. His clothes are shabbier and a new order develops as Carrie leaves money for him. She is envious of the other girls, though, as they are able to buy new clothes. Whilst Hurstwood secretly mounts up debts at the local shops, she begins to visit her new friends more as a relief from staying away from him. She is ashamed to tell her new friend Lola that she is married as she has often mentioned how she needs the money. The implication is that she is ashamed of Hurstwood for being unemployed.
The chasm between Hurstwood and Carrie widens and when she is asked to lead the chorus line, and receives an increase in pay, she does not tell him about it.
They become increasingly indifferent to each other in Chapter Forty and Carrie begins to feel she has a place in the world when she secures a new role which pays 20 dollars a week. After an argument about their unpaid grocery bill, and Carrie almost accuses him of stealing, Hurstwood decides to apply for work on the trolleys, as strike breakers are needed.
Carrie is seen to begin a new independent career here as Hurstwood faces growing difficulties in securing work. Their opposite fortunes emphasize this novel’s concern with contrasting wealth and poverty. Hurstwood’s predicament is made all the more accentuated as Carrie’s progress as an actress occurs simultaneously, and so the reader is drawn into comparing situations, which is what Carrie and Hurstwood have done throughout this novel. Their unhappiness with their own lives has been seen to have been brought on by the sensation that they are not as wealthy, well dressed or emotionally satisfied as other people.