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THEODORE DREISER AND HIS CHARACTERS IN SISTER CARRIE
- THEODORE DREISER AND HIS CHARACTERS IN SISTER CARRIE
- CHOI, CHUNG KYU
- Issue Date
- 대학원 영어영문학과
- 이화여자대학교 대학원
- Ⅴ. Conclusion
I have traced the careers of Dreiser's characters to show that their endless desires outweigh external values. It is noticeable that a strong character like Carrie destroys others, while a weak character like Hurstwood desroys himself, and Drouet goes on living the same as be Even though strong-willed Carrie found a way to achieve fame and wealth, she could not find inner contentment. This is the irony which Dreiser intended to show. If she, who achieved fame and wealth, must suffer an "inner defeat" as strong as that of the failure, then there is no chance for personal fulfillment as long as one pursues external values.
Although Carrie has her "gowns and carriages, her furniture, and bank account," her inner feeling is still one of longing and incompletion. "Amid the tinsel and shine of her state, " she is lonely and unhappy. She always dreams of a happiness that she may never feel.
Now Carrie had attained that which in the
beginning seemed life's object, or at least,
such a fraction of it as human beings ever
attain of their original desires. She could
look about on her gowns and carriages, her
furniture and bank account. Friends there were,
as the world takes it--- those who would bow and
smile in acknowledgement of her success. For
these she had once craved. Applause there was,
and publicity---once far off, essential
things, but now grown trivial and indifferent. Beauty also---her type of loveliness---and yet she was lonely. In her rocking-chair she sat, when not otherwise engaged---singing and dreaming.
While Dreiser showed her rise to fame and wealth, but only stated her failure to find inner contentment, his intention is clearly indicated. He wished to show us that Carrie had pursued in money and fashion, "the false representation" of her ideal of beauty. Dreiser sums up Carrie's career as "incidents" :
Chicago dawning, she saw the city offering
more of loveliness than she had ever known,
and instinctively, by force of her moods alone,
clung to it. In fine raiment and elegant
surroundings, men seemed to be contented.
Hence, she drew near these things. Chicago,
Hew York; Drouet, Hurstwood; the world of
fashion and the world of stage--- these
were but incidents. Not them, but which
they represented she longed for. Time
proved the representation false.
Nor was virtue rewarded and vice punished in accord with conventional views of morality, with characters in Sister Carrie. Carrie becomes the mistress of one man and then the other, yet she is not made to suffer for violating social norms. Although Dreiser denies her happiness, he awards her success as an actress, and her wistfulness as she sits musing at the end of the novel is a symbol of her yearning for the ideal---not contrition for sinful action. Drouet, the seducer, rose, in the material standard, from traveling salesman to branch manager. Hurstwood's suicide was followed by his long, steady decline, but the consequences are not viewed as the wages of sin.
Here we can see Dreiser is taking a sympathetic attitude with his characters. He offers the general observation; "Not evil, but longing for that which is better, more often directs the steps of erring. Not evil, but goodness more often allures the feeling mind unused to reason."
Laws to say : "Be allured, if you will, by
everything lovely, but draw not nigh unless
by righteousness. " Convention to say: "You
shall not better your situation. save by
honest labour. " If honest Labour be unre-
munerative and difficult to endure, if it be
the long, long road whichever reaches beauty,
but wearies the feet and heart; if the drag to
follow beauty be such that one abandons the
admired way, taking rather the despised path
leading to her dreams quickly, who shall
cast the first stone? Not evil, but longing
for which is better, more often directs the
steps of erring. Not evil, but goodness
more often allures the feeling mind unused
Dreiaer seems to believe that the natural impulses of man, being natural, should be allowed free expression. Because he saw man as helpless before his inner compulsions, he condemned society's attempt to inhibit him from satisfying his temperamental needs. Moreover, he saw little value in many of the social conventions, for he felt that convention itself is existing through force of habit, unrelated to actualities in social life. Therefore, he took a sympathetic attitude with the efforts of his characters to release themselves from the bonds of convention.
But it is regrettable to notice that in magnifying the compulsive influence of the environment, Hurstwood is deprived of any power to resist his environment. Caught up in the stream of New York life and carried 'along in its rushing currents, Hurstwood is utterly powerless to find his own direction.
Gelfant even says of Dreiser's characters as mere mechanisms; "they are like passive, resistless put쇼 before the shaping force of the environment. Utterly helpless, they cannot resist or turn away from external forces. Their tropistic responses to the materialistic attraction of society are essentially no different from the response of the sunflower to the sun."
Dreiser assumed that because urban society set up material success as man's highest goal, the individual was helplessly conditioned to pursue it. In inspiring this pursuit, urban society had cheated the individual, for urban society had set before him false ideals and given him a direction that could lead only to spiritual disunity and moral defeat. By depicting characters like Carrie and Hurstwood, Dreiser shows a□mass condemnation for all of modern urban society---for its inequalities that evoked desires for money; for its failure to show man beauty in any form other than that of material things.
Pursuing and reflecting outer values, characters in Sister Carrie lack rich and personal inner life. Lacking real feelings, we cannot contact with their inner. lives. and beneath them there is a terrible coldness. When Hurstwood is no longer playing a part of his own role as a saloon manager, there is nothing of Hurstwood left. Drouet, without his flashy clothes that typify him, and deprived of his position, as Dreiser says, would be as helpless and pitiable as early Carrie.
Carrie seems the coldest of all. She cuts herself off from her family; although she is seduced by two men, these experiences, beyond certain guilt feelings, seemingly have no effect upon her, and she never experiences inner, rich, spiritual love with either man; after she and Drouet have seperated she never thinks of him, and after she leaves Hurstwood, she completely shuts him out of her mind; in the moments of her success as an actress, she never feels happiness, because she has no genuine emotion or attitude about life except that of endless desire to better Carrie outwardly.
The people in Sister Carrie are vulgar, even amoral in conventional view, but they long for happiness with energy and intensity. But they make a great mistake identifying this happiness with the life of wealth, fame and luxury. So, even though one achieves success in the worldly meaning, he feels the spiritual defeat. In fact, they are dehumanized as the artificial city they live in, and their hearts are as cold as the glittering lights that hypnotize them.
Robert W. Schneider commented that "Dreiser's individuals existed in a universe which did not regard them as important, participated in a battle called life which they could not understand, and dwelled in a society that oppressed them with no lasting human relationships...man's life was tragedy, a tragedy arising out of the discrepancy between the human dream and human capabilities."
Dreiser recaptured the hope and excitement of the urban atmosphere and described the people who were attracted by this atmosphere and became part of it. He explored the hopes and disappointments of these people and traced their struggle. "He was among the first to reveal in fiction the other side of the American dream of success. He assessed the failures of urban society and condemned the destructive elements in it that keep man from finding inner contentment and leading a rich, full life.,,1 He expressed the modern tragedy of man, driven by biological instincts and crushed in a mechanized, impersonal world.
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