Sister Carrie Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


Sister Carrie: Chapters 41-47

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At the trolley depot, Hurstwood begins his induction as a driver in Chapter Forty-One. He notes that his fellow strike breakers are as desperate for work as he is. To save money on travel he stays overnight in the building and has to ask for a meal ticket for breakfast. When he begins work, he is taunted as a ‘scab’ and is offered some protection by the police men who travel with him. He is initially determined to carry on despite the jeers and missiles being thrown at him, but when he is beaten by a mob and then hears a gun shot, he walks back home. He does not explain to Carrie how horrendous this was. This chapter ends with him in the flat reading about the strike.
Carrie becomes increasingly successful as she gains a speaking role in Chapter Forty-Two. She is also becoming more experienced and is less affected by male flattery. Whilst she is out working, Hurstwood just reads and reads and remembers his old life to the point that he becomes lost in it.
She considers leaving him when Lola suggest they get a flat together, and when she is offered a better part (as an actress for 35 dollars a week) she finally agrees. She reveals none of this to Hurstwood and on the day she is due to move out, he returns home to find a letter with 20 dollars informing of her departure. (It is worth remembering that this is the amount Drouet gave her before she began living with him). He suddenly feels lonely and sits in the rocking chair until midnight, staring at the floor.
In Chapter Forty-Three, Carrie is at first worried about Hurstwood coming to see her. He does not do this, though, and she begins to feel free of the gloom of their relationship. Her job absorbs her instead and is pleased to see her name and then her photograph in the theatrical papers. Although she is friends with Lola, she has no one to send the picture to; she has ‘no warm, sympathetic friendship’. She then acquires a role at the Casino Theatre where she is required to scowl for 30 dollars a week. She becomes the main feature of the play (for the comic effect) and the newspapers pick up on her. She is given a pay rise (of 150 dollars a week).
Hurstwood reads about her success and sees she has become a celebrity. He believes that she is inside the walled city now. He decides not to bother and keeps his pride intact.
The news of Carrie’s fame spreads and she is given a larger dressing room in Chapter Forty-Four. She is invited to live at the Wellington Hotel at a reduced rate, as she will be good for business. When Mrs Vance visits her backstage, Carrie realizes she is at least on her level now. Carrie’s melancholy begins to return when she thinks that to move higher (in her social standing) she needs to earn a great deal more than 150 dollars. She is also somewhat lonely and is not interested in the letters she receives from adoring men.
In Chapter Forty-Five, Hurstwood continues to read in the summer and falls in the cheap hotel where he now lives. He is lonely, but not quite alone whilst Carrie works at the Casino as she is still nearby. He moves to even cheaper lodgings in the Bowery when he has only 20 dollars left, and thinks of the past continuously. He notices Carrie is no longer in the play, and when his money runs out he finds menial work at a hotel (the Broadway Central), but has to quit when he catches pneumonia.
When he recovers, he has to beg to be able to eat and is truly hungry when he notices Carrie has returned to the Casino and decides to ask her for help. He waits outside the theater, but she does not see him and he has no chance to stop her. Whilst waiting outside, he notices a man helping homeless people. He joins these men whilst money is secured (by begging) to pay for each of them to have a room for the night. This chapter ends with Hurstwood sitting on a bunk and saying he cannot stand much more of this.
The narrative returns to Carrie in Chapter Forty-Six. Drouet pays her a visit in her dressing room and it is clear he is happy to put their past problems behind them. She is more reluctant to start their friendship up again and no longer admires him, but finally agrees to dine with him at her hotel (the Waldorf). At the meal, Drouet reveals that Hurstwood stole 10,000 dollars in Chicago. Carrie admits to herself that this was evident on hindsight and thinks he probably took it on her account. She feels sorrow for Hurstwood and how terrible it must have been to have had this hanging over him.
Ironically, this is the same night she passed Hurstwood without seeing him and Lola pointed out that a hungry-looking man was staring at them. Carrie spots him the next night, though, and is haunted by the way he looks. She gives him the money she has in her purse and he says he will pay her back and will never bother her again.
That summer, Carrie works in London whilst Hurstwood relies on charities and a small job as a janitor. When she returns in winter, she encounters Bob Ames, who has invented a new light (according to Mrs Vance). He is more serious than she remembers him to be and he asks if she is moving into drama. He also expands on the idea that most people are dissatisfied with their lives and no one has exactly what they desire. When she tells him she is not doing what she wants to do, he advises her to change. She troubles over this for a few days and then tells Lola she is thinking of leaving comedy behind.
In the final chapter the reader is told of Hurstwood’s queue for a free lunch and how he is a frequent recipient of free loaves which are given out at midnight. By January, he has had enough of his life - it is no longer precious. He looked for Carrie in the newspapers in the summer and fall (when she was in London) and then his eyes began to fail him, so he resorted to dozing. He finds it more difficult to beg for money as his appearance is now more repugnant. He thinks of killing himself if he could get 15 cents to rent a room that has gas jets, but changes his mind when he manages to beg a full quarter instead.
He goes to walk on Broadway, but wishes he had not as the contrast with his own circumstances is too great. When he comes to the decision (to kill himself) Carrie happens to express sympathy for those out in the snow. At the same time, Drouet tells a friend he is able to introduce him to some girls. The narrative then shifts to Mrs Hurstwood, Jessica and Jessica’s new husband as they travel to Rome.
Hurstwood waits for a bed for the night, which costs 15 cents. When he enters the room, he takes off his coat and vest and puts them against the crack in the door. He turns the gas out, hesitates, and then turns it back on without lighting it. As the smell of the gas reaches him, he says wearily ‘what’s the use’.
The chapter finishes with Carrie sitting in her rocking chair having attained what she wanted in the beginning of the novel, such as new clothes and recognition, but is still not entirely happy. She knows nothing of Hurstwood’s death and she sees no more of Drouet and so these figures from the past are erased. It is suggested she still has not found complete happiness as emotion has been led by reason and it is the pursuit of happiness which will bring its own pleasure.
The contrast between Carrie and Hurstwood reaches its climax in these last chapters and culminates in Hurstwood’s suicide. The poignancy of his final moments is sharpened as the narrative moves between him, Drouet, Carrie and his wife and daughter in the last pages of the final chapter. Whereas the others continue to thrive, he falls into his final despair.
As Carrie sits rocking in her chair, surrounded by her finery, it is clear that she continues to experience dissatisfaction. It is worth remembering that Ames warned her of this very human condition, where desire can be a bottomless pit of discontent and it is a telling point because Hurstwood’s death and Carrie’s success become not so distant after all. Beneath the superficiality of wealth and material possessions, full happiness is still to be found and the narrative questions whether this is ever possible when reason is subsumed by emotion.


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