Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser Reviewed by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser; Dover Thrift Editions, 2004 (first edition Doubleday, 1900). 352 pages (paperback); $7.00; reading level: high school/adult.

In 1889, when nineteen-year-old Carrie Meeber, arrives in Chicago from a small town to look for a job, she is, by turns, dazzled and defeated by big-city life.  We look through her eyes with a sort of double vision: As she covets the dresses and shoes on view in new “retail combinations” called department stores, we see the claws of materialistic consumerism beginning to take hold; when she justifies becoming the mistress of two men in succession in order to afford the things she so badly wants, we see the Victorian moral code rendered obsolete by Darwinian thinking; as Carrie’s fortunes rise and those of her second lover decline, we see the dark underbelly of the American Dream.  Originally published in 1900, Theodore Dreiser described his novel “not as a piece of literary craftsmanship, but as a picture of conditions done as simply and effectively as the English language will permit.” The fact that he achieved his goal so masterfully goes a long way toward explaining how a story that might have been brushed aside as a soap opera has, instead, endured as a classic. In addition to providing a perceptive look back at a key point in history, the book also leaves the contemporary reader with a startling question:  Are things so very different today?

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

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