Chapter 1: The Magnet Attracting—A Waif Amid Forces
When Caroline Meeber boarded the afternoon train for Chicago, her total outfit consisted of a small trunk, a cheap imitation alligator-skin satchel, a small lunch in a paper box, and a yellow leather snap purse, containing her ticket, a scrap of paper with her sister's address in Van Buren Street, and four dollars in money. It was in August, 1889. She was eighteen years of age, bright, timid, and full of the illusions of ignorance and youth. Whatever touch of regret at parting characterized her thoughts, it was certainly not for advantages now being given up. A gush of tears at her mother's farewell kiss, a touch in her throat when the cars clacked by the flour mill where her father worked by the day, a pathetic sigh as the familiar green environs of the village passed in review, and the threads which bound her so lightly to girlhood and home were irretrievably broken.
To be sure there was always the next station, where one might descend and return. There was the great city, bound more closely by these very trains which came up daily. Columbia City was not so very far away, even once she was in Chicago. What, pray, is a few hours—a few hundred miles? She looked at the little slip bearing her sister's address and wondered. She gazed at the green landscape, now passing in swift review, until her swifter thoughts replaced its impression with vague conjectures of what Chicago might be.1
1 Everything I know about Chicago is based on the musical/movie, Chicago. So I'm guessing this book will feature a bunch of flat-chested broads, murder, and Queen Latifah.
When a girl leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse.2
2 Give me the "cosmopolitan standard of virtue" over "saving hands" any fucking day. I'm assuming by "cosmopolitan," Dreiser is referring to the woman's magazine, so in that case: multiple orgasms for all!
Of an intermediate balance, under the circumstances, there is no possibility. The city has its cunning wiles, no less than the infinitely smaller and more human tempter. There are large forces which allure with all the soulfulness of expression possible in the most cultured human. The gleam of a thousand lights is often as effective as the persuasive light in a wooing and fascinating eye. Half the undoing of the unsophisticated and natural mind is accomplished by forces wholly superhuman. A blare of sound, a roar of life, a vast array of human hives, appeal to the astonished senses in equivocal terms. Without a counsellor at hand to whisper cautious interpretations, what falsehoods may not these things breathe into the unguarded ear! Unrecognized for what they are, their beauty, like music, too often relaxes, then weakens, then perverts the simpler human perceptions.
Caroline, or Sister Carrie, as she had been half affectionately termed by the family, was possessed of a mind rudimentary in its power of observation and analysis.3
3Any family that "half affectionately" gives you a spinster nickname is busting your balls. And I thought I had it bad being named after a pygmy mandarin orange.
Self-interest with her was high, but not strong. It was, nevertheless, her guiding characteristic. Warm with the fancies of youth, pretty with the insipid prettiness of the formative period, possessed of a figure promising eventual shapeliness and an eye alight with certain native intelligence, she was a fair example of the middle American class—two generations removed from the emigrant. Books were beyond her interest—knowledge a sealed book.4In the intuitive graces she was still crude. She could scarcely toss her head gracefully. Her hands were almost ineffectual. The feet, though small, were set flatly.5
4 You heard it here first: Theodore Dreiser thinks young, pretty, middle-class gals are too stupid to read.
5 Unrelated fact: Dreiser had a serious Lolita fetish. Especially if they were his cousins.
And yet she was interested in her charms, quick to understand the keener pleasures of life, ambitious to gain in material things. A half-equipped little knight she was, venturing to reconnoiter the mysterious city and dreaming wild dreams of some vague, far-off supremacy, which should make it prey and subject—the proper penitent, grovelling at a woman's slipper.
"That," said a voice in her ear, "is one of the prettiest little resorts in Wisconsin." "Is it?" she answered nervously.
The train was just pulling out of Waukesha. For some time she had been conscious of a man behind. She felt him observing her mass of hair.6
6 Human courtship is pathetically similar to hedgehog breeding. First sign of attraction? Male responding to female's quills.
He had been fidgeting, and with natural intuition she felt a certain interest growing in that quarter. Her maidenly reserve, and a certain sense of what was conventional under the circumstances, called her to forestall and deny this familiarity, but the daring and magnetism of the individual, born of past experiences and triumphs, prevailed. She answered.
He leaned forward to put his elbows upon the back of her seat and proceeded to make himself volubly agreeable.7
7 Second sign? Male lowering his quills in a casual manner.
"Yes, that is a great resort for Chicago people. The hotels are swell. You are not familiar with this part of the country, are you?"
"Oh, yes, I am," answered Carrie. "That is, I live at Columbia City. I have never been through here, though."
"And so this is your first visit to Chicago," he observed.
All the time she was conscious of certain features out of the side of her eye. Flush, colorful cheeks, a light mustache, a gray fedora hat. She now turned and looked upon him in full, the instincts of self- protection and coquetry mingling confusedly in her brain.8
8 Final sign? Female starts to freak the fuck out and tries to get the hell out of there.
"I didn't say that," she said.
"Oh," he answered, in a very pleasing way and with an assumed air of mistake, "I thought you did."
Here was a type of the travelling canvasser for a manufacturing house—a class which at that time was first being dubbed by the slang of the day "drummers." He came within the meaning of a still newer term, which had sprung into general use among Americans in 1880, and which concisely expressed the thought of one whose dress or manners are calculated to elicit the admiration of susceptible young women—a "masher." His suit was of a striped and crossed pattern of brown wool, new at that time, but since become familiar as a business suit. The low crotch of the vest revealed a stiff shirt bosom of white and pink stripes. From his coat sleeves protruded a pair of linen cuffs of the same pattern, fastened with large, gold plate buttons, set with the common yellow agates known as "cat's-eyes." His fingers bore several rings—one, the ever-enduring heavy seal—and from his vest dangled a neat gold watch chain, from which was suspended the secret insignia of the Order of Elks.9The whole suit was rather tight-fitting, and was finished off with heavy-soled tan shoes, highly polished, and the gray fedora hat. He was, for the order of intellect represented, attractive, and whatever he had to recommend him, you may be sure was not lost upon Carrie, in this, her first glance.
9 Fun fact: The Elks were segregated until as late as 1985, and they did not accept women until the mid 1990's. They still don't allow atheists.
Lest this order of individual should permanently pass, let me put down some of the most striking characteristics of his most successful manner and method. Good clothes, of course, were the first essential, the things without which he was nothing. A strong physical nature, actuated by a keen desire for the feminine, was the next. A mind free of any consideration of the problems or forces of the world and actuated not by greed, but an insatiable love of variable pleasure. His method was always simple. Its principal element was daring, backed, of course, by an intense desire and admiration for the sex. Let him meet with a young woman once and he would approach her with an air of kindly familiarity, not unmixed with pleading, which would result in most cases in a tolerant acceptance. If she showed any tendency to coquetry he would be apt to straighten her tie, or if she "took up" with him at all, to call her by her first name. If he visited a department store it was to lounge familiarly over the counter and ask some leading questions. In more exclusive circles, on the train or in waiting stations, he went slower. If some seemingly vulnerable object appeared he was all attention—to pass the compliments of the day, to lead the way to the parlor car, carrying her grip, or, failing that, to take a seat next her with the hope of being able to court her to her destination. Pillows, books, a footstool, the shade lowered; all these figured in the things which he could do. If, when she reached her destination he did not alight and attend her baggage for her, it was because, in his own estimation, he had signally failed.10
10 It's tough being a white dude at the turn of the century. All that attending to baggage and shit. Those bitches heard of scoliosis or what?
A woman should some day write the complete philosophy of clothes. No matter how young, it is one of the things she wholly comprehends. There is an indescribably faint line in the matter of man's apparel which somehow divides for her those who are worth glancing at and those who are not. Once an individual has passed this faint line on the way downward he will get no glance from her. There is another line at which the dress of a man will cause her to study her own. This line the individual at her elbow now marked for Carrie. She became conscious of an inequality. Her own plain blue dress, with its black cotton tape trimmings, now seemed to her shabby. She felt the worn state of her shoes.
"Let's see," he went on, "I know quite a number of people in your town. Morgenroth the clothier and Gibson the dry goods man."
"Oh, do you?" she interrupted, aroused by memories of longings their show windows had cost her.
At last he had a clue to her interest, and followed it deftly. In a few minutes he had come about into her seat. He talked of sales of clothing, his travels, Chicago, and the amusements of that city.
"If you are going there, you will enjoy it immensely. Have you relatives?"
"I am going to visit my sister," she explained.
"You want to see Lincoln Park," he said, "and Michigan Boulevard. They are putting up great buildings there. It's a second New York—great.11So much to see—theatres, crowds, fine houses—oh, you'll like that."There was a little ache in her fancy of all he described.12Her insignificance in the presence of so much magnificence faintly affected her. She realized that hers was not to be a round of pleasure, and yet there was something promising in all the material prospect he set forth. There was something satisfactory in the attention of this individual with his good clothes. She could not help smiling as he told her of some popular actress of whom she reminded him. She was not silly, and yet attention of this sort had its weight.
11 Poor Chicago. Playing second fiddle, even then. It's your own fault, really. Who wants that much fucking crust on their pizza?
12 Again with "her fancy." He may be referring to her psyche. Or her self-esteem. But I think Dreiser honestly thought that was the medical term for "ovaries."
"You will be in Chicago some little time, won't you?" he observed at one turn of the now easy conversation.
"I don't know," said Carrie vaguely—a flash vision of the possibility of her not securing employment rising in her mind.13
13 Oh, god. Suddenly reminded of Carrie Bradshaw and Mr. Big's first meeting. Yes, I watched that show, and no, you can't judge me. It's godawful, and I've seen every episode and both fucking movies.
"Several weeks, anyhow," he said, looking steadily into her eyes.
There was much more passing now than the mere words indicated. He recognized the indescribable thing that made up for fascination and beauty in her. She realized that she was of interest to him from the one standpoint which a woman both delights in and fears. Her manner was simple, though for the very reason that she had not yet learned the many little affectations with which women conceal their true feelings. Some things she did appeared bold. A clever companion—had she ever had one—would have warned her never to look a man in the eyes so steadily.14
14 I don't blame her. Eye contact is a bitch. That's why I'm all about neck contact. Nothing sexual there, amiright?
"Why do you ask?" she said.
"Well, I'm going to be there several weeks. I'm going to study stock at our place and get new samples. I might show you 'round."
"I don't know whether you can or not. I mean I don't know whether I can. I shall be living with my sister, and—"
"Well, if she minds, we'll fix that." He took out his pencil and a little pocket notebook as if it were all settled. "What is your address there?"
She fumbled her purse which contained the address slip.
He reached down in his hip pocket and took out a fat purse. It was filled with slips of paper, some mileage books, a roll of greenbacks.15
15 Subtle. Really subtle.
It impressed her deeply. Such a purse had never been carried by any one attentive to her. Indeed, an experienced traveller, a brisk man of the world, had never come within such close range before. The purse, the shiny tan shoes, the smart new suit, and the air with which he did things, built up for her a dim world of fortune, of which he was the center.16It disposed her pleasantly toward all he might do.
16 That universe's name? The Douchenozzle Nebula.
He took out a neat business card, on which was engraved Bartlett, Caryoe & Company, and down in the left-hand corner, Chas. H. Drouet.
"That's me," he said, putting the card in her hand and touching his name. "It's pronounced Drew-eh. Our family was French, on my father's side." She looked at it while he put up his purse. Then he got out a letter from a bunch in his coat pocket. "This is the house I travel for," he went on, pointing to a picture on it, "corner of State and Lake." There was pride in his voice. He felt that it was something to be connected with such a place, and he made her feel that way.
"What is your address?" he began again, fixing his pencil to write. She looked at his hand.
"Carrie Meeber," she said slowly. "Three hundred and fifty-four West Van Buren Street, care S. C. Hanson."
He wrote it carefully down and got out the purse again. "You'll be at home if I come around Monday night?" he said.
"I think so," she answered.
How true it is that words are but the vague shadows of the volumes we mean. Little audible links, they are, chaining together great inaudible feelings and purposes.17
17 Dreiser sure loves his high-minded musing. Dude is into her, end of story. There are no "vague shadows." He's obviously a sketchball, and she's oblivious. This isn't going to end well. I can't wait.
Here were these two, bandying little phrases, drawing purses, looking at cards, and both unconscious of how inarticulate all their real feelings were. Neither was wise enough to be sure of the working of the mind of the other. He could not tell how his luring succeeded. She could not realize that she was drifting, until he secured her address. Now she felt that she had yielded something—he, that he had gained a victory. Already they felt that they were somehow associated. Already he took control in directing the conversation. His words were easy. Her manner was relaxed.
They were nearing Chicago. Signs were everywhere numerous. Trains flashed by them. Across wide stretches of flat, open prairie they could see lines of telegraph poles stalking across the fields toward the great city.18
18 Historical tidbit: telegraphs are like proto-text messages. Similarly, dumping and sexting were usually frowned upon via wire but often exercised anyway.
Far away were indications of suburban towns, some big smokestacks towering high in the air.
Frequently there were two-story frame houses standing out in the open fields, without fence or trees, lone outposts of the approaching army of homes.
To the child, the genius with imagination, or the wholly untravelled, the approach to a great city for the first time is a wonderful thing. Particularly if it be evening—that mystic period between the glare and gloom of the world when life is changing from one sphere or condition to another. Ah, the promise of the night.19What does it not hold for the weary! What old illusion of hope is not here forever repeated! Says the soul of the toiler to itself, "I shall soon be free. I shall be in the ways and the hosts of the merry. The streets, the lamps, the lighted chamber set for dining, are for me. The theatre, the halls, the parties, the ways of rest and the paths of song—these are mine in the night." Though all humanity be still enclosed in the shops, the thrill runs abroad. It is in the air. The dullest feel something which they may not always express or describe. It is the lifting of the burden of toil.
19 Classical writers are so quaint. Can you imagine David Foster Wallace un-ironically writing that fucking sentence? Kakutani would have handed him his balls on a platter.
Sister Carrie gazed out of the window. Her companion, affected by her wonder, so contagious are all things, felt anew some interest in the city and pointed out its marvels.
"This is Northwest Chicago," said Drouet. "This is the Chicago River," and he pointed to a little muddy creek, crowded with the huge masted wanderers from far-off waters nosing the black-posted banks. With a puff, a clang, and a clatter of rails it was gone. "Chicago is getting to be a great town," he went on. "It's a wonder. You'll find lots to see here." 20
20 ". . . in my pantaloons."
She did not hear this very well. Her heart was troubled by a kind of terror. The fact that she was alone, away from home, rushing into a great sea of life and endeavor, began to tell. She could not help but feel a little choked for breath—a little sick as her heart beat so fast. She half closed her eyes and tried to think it was nothing, that Columbia City was only a little way off.
"Chicago! Chicago!" called the brakeman, slamming open the door. They were rushing into a more crowded yard, alive with the clatter and clang of life. She began to gather up her poor little grip and closed her hand firmly upon her purse. Drouet arose, kicked his legs to straighten his trousers, and seized his clean yellow grip.
"I suppose your people will be here to meet you?" he said. "Let me carry your grip."
"Oh, no," she said. "I'd rather you wouldn't. I'd rather you wouldn't be with me when I meet my sister."
"All right," he said in all kindness. "I'll be near, though, in case she isn't here, and take you out there safely."
"You're so kind," said Carrie, feeling the goodness of such attention in her strange situation.
"Chicago!" called the brakeman, drawing the word out long. They were under a great shadowy train shed, where the lamps were already beginning to shine out, with passenger cars all about and the train moving at a snail's pace. The people in the car were all up and crowding about the door.
"Well, here we are," said Drouet, leading the way to the door. "Good-bye, till I see you Monday."
"Good-bye," she answered, taking his proffered hand.
"Remember, I'll be looking till you find your sister."
She smiled into his eyes. They filed out, and he affected to take no notice of her.21A lean-faced, rather commonplace woman recognized Carrie on the platform and hurried forward.
21 Nope, not creepy at all.
"Why, Sister Carrie!" she began, and there was embrace of welcome.
Carrie realized the change of affectional atmosphere at once. Amid all the maze, uproar, and novelty she felt cold reality taking her by the hand. No world of light and merriment. No round of amusement. Her sister carried with her most of the grimness of shift and toil.22
22 Would you expect anything else from someone who gives you the nickname "Sister Carrie?" Her sister puts the "bitter" in "bitter old crone."
"Why, how are all the folks at home?" she began; "how is father, and mother?"
Carrie answered, but was looking away. Down the aisle, toward the gate leading into the waiting- room and the street, stood Drouet. He was looking back. When he saw that she saw him and was safe with her sister he turned to go, sending back the shadow of a smile. Only Carrie saw it. She felt something lost to her when he moved away. When he disappeared she felt his absence thoroughly. With her sister she was much alone, a lone figure in a tossing thoughtless sea.23
23 Save it for your Xanga, Dreiser.
Chapter 2: What Poverty Threatened—of Granite and Brass
Minnie's flat, as the one-floor resident apartments were then being called, was in a part of West Van Buren Street inhabited by families of laborers and clerks, men who had come, and were still coming, with the rush of population pouring in at the rate of 50,000 a year.24It was on the third floor, the front windows looking down into the street, where, at night, the lights of grocery stores were shining and children were playing.To Carrie, the sound of the little bells upon the horse-cars, as they tinkled in and out of hearing, was as pleasing as it was novel.25She gazed into the lighted street when Minnie brought her into the front room, and wondered at the sounds, the movement, the murmur of the vast city which stretched for miles and miles in every direction.
24 Danger, girl. Do not move into a neighborhood named after eighth president, Martin "van Ruin," the purveyor of such gems as the Trail of Tears and one of the costliest American Indian wars.
25 God bless old-timey folks. They got shits and giggles from the sound of tinkling bells, while we're out here injecting heroin into our eyeballs just to feel something.
Mrs. Hanson, after the first greetings were over, gave Carrie the baby and proceeded to get supper. Her husband asked a few questions and sat down to read the evening paper. He was a silent man, American born, of a Swede father, and now employed as a cleaner of refrigerator cars at the stockyards. To him the presence or absence of his wife's sister was a matter of indifference. Her personal appearance did not affect him one way or the other. His one observation to the point was concerning the chances of work in Chicago.
"It's a big place," he said. "You can get in somewhere in a few days. Everybody does."26It had been tacitly understood beforehand that she was to get work and pay her board. He was of a clean, saving disposition, and had already paid a number of monthly installments on two lots far out on the West Side. His ambition was some day to build a house on them.
26 Damn. Is anyone else's quills getting all hot and bothered? I like him. No bullshit. Just strong, silent Swedish testosterone. You can have your namby pamby fops in emerald pantaloons with rolls of greenbacks. Give me a turn-of-the-century lumberjack any day.
In the interval which marked the preparation of the meal Carrie found time to study the flat. She had some slight gift of observation and that sense, so rich in every woman—intuition.
She felt the drag of a lean and narrow life. The walls of the rooms were discordantly papered. The floors were covered with matting and the hall laid with a thin rag carpet. One could see that the furniture was of that poor, hurriedly patched together quality sold by the installment houses.
She sat with Minnie, in the kitchen, holding the baby until it began to cry. Then she walked and sang to it, until Hanson, disturbed in his reading, came and took it. A pleasant side to his nature came out here. He was patient. One could see that he was very much wrapped up in his offspring.27
27 Goddammit. Way to ruin the beefcake for me, Dreiser. You'll never see a caring hedgehog father, let me tell you. They're terrified of children and of hedgehog mothers, who will occasionally attack the father if he comes too close to her kin. Or as she sometimes calls it, dinner.
"Now, now," he said, walking. "There, there," and there was a certain Swedish accent noticeable in his voice.
"You'll want to see the city first, won't you?" said Minnie, when they were eating. "Well, we'll go out Sunday and see Lincoln Park."
Carrie noticed that Hanson had said nothing to this. He seemed to be thinking of something else.
"Well," she said, "I think I'll look around tomorrow. I've got Friday and Saturday, and it won't be any trouble. Which way is the business part?"
Minnie began to explain, but her husband took this part of the conversation to himself.
"It's that way," he said, pointing east. "That's east." Then he went off into the longest speech he had yet indulged in, concerning the lay of Chicago. "You'd better look in those big manufacturing houses along Franklin Street and just the other side of the river," he concluded. "Lots of girls work there. You could get home easy, too. It isn't very far."
Carrie nodded and asked her sister about the neighborhood. The latter talked in a subdued tone, telling the little she knew about it, while Hanson concerned himself with the baby. Finally he jumped up and handed the child to his wife.
"I've got to get up early in the morning, so I'll go to bed," and off he went, disappearing into the dark little bedroom off the hall, for the night.
"He works way down at the stockyards," explained Minnie, "so he's got to get up at half-past five."
"What time do you get up to get breakfast?" asked Carrie. "At about twenty minutes of five."
Together they finished the labor of the day, Carrie washing the dishes while Minnie undressed the baby and put it to bed. Minnie's manner was one of trained industry, and Carrie could see that it was a steady round of toil with her.
She began to see that her relations with Drouet would have to be abandoned. He could not come here. She read from the manner of Hanson, in the subdued air of Minnie, and, indeed, the whole atmosphere of the flat, a settled opposition to anything save a conservative round of toil.28If Hanson sat every evening in the front room and read his paper, if he went to bed at nine, and Minnie a little later, what would they expect of her? She saw that she would first need to get work and establish herself on a paying basis before she could think of having company of any sort. Her little flirtation with Drouet seemed now an extraordinary thing.
28 I know she's only 18 and wants to live a gangsta's life of bitches and hos, but first she needs to calm the fuck down. I thought everyone born at this time was instilled with an acceptance that life would be nothing but babies and ebola. Not our little ingrate Carrie.
"No," she said to herself, "he can't come here."
She asked Minnie for ink and paper, which were upon the mantel in the dining-room, and when the latter had gone to bed at ten, got out Drouet's card and wrote him.
"I cannot have you call on me here. You will have to wait until you hear from me again. My sister's place is so small."
She troubled herself over what else to put in the letter. She wanted to make some reference to their relations upon the train, but was too timid. She concluded by thanking him for his kindness in a crude way, then puzzled over the formality of signing her name, and finally decided upon the severe, winding up with a "Very truly," which she subsequently changed to "Sincerely." 29She sealed and addressed the letter, and going in the front room, the alcove of which contained her bed, drew the one small rocking-chair up to the open window, and sat looking out upon the night and streets in silent wonder. Finally, wearied by her own reflections, she began to grow dull in her chair, and feeling the need of sleep, arranged her clothing for the night and went to bed.
29 Keep in mind this was before white-out, much less the Delete key. So old Drouet could see the entire process of her shitting bricks. Back then, neurosis wasn't cute. It usually meant you were a witch.
When she awoke at eight the next morning, Hanson had gone.30Her sister was busy in the dining-room, which was also the sitting-room, sewing. She worked, after dressing, to arrange a little breakfast for herself, and then advised with Minnie as to which way to look. The latter had changed considerably since Carrie had seen her. She was now a thin, though rugged, woman of twenty-seven, with ideas of life colored by her husband's, and fast hardening into narrower conceptions of pleasure and duty than had ever been hers in a thoroughly circumscribed youth. She had invited Carrie, not because she longed for her presence, but because the latter was dissatisfied at home, and could probably get work and pay her board here. She was pleased to see her in a way but reflected her husband's point of view in the matter of work. Anything was good enough so long as it paid—say, five dollars a week to begin with.A shop girl was the destiny prefigured for the newcomer.31
30 Half the fucking day is gone! That's some serious slacking by 19th-century standards.
31 Now things are taking an Eliza Doolittle turn, minus the guttersnipe accent. I'm rooting for homegirl, but we all know she's not going to settle for being a shop girl. And yeah, someone needs to get all Henry Higgins on her uncultured ass.
She would get in one of the great shops and do well enough until—well, until something happened. Neither of them knew exactly what. They did not figure on promotion. They did not exactly count on marriage. Things would go on, though, in a dim kind of way until the better thing would eventuate, and Carrie would be rewarded for coming and toiling in the city. It was under such auspicious circumstances that she started out this morning to look for work.
Before following her in her round of seeking, let us look at the sphere in which her future was to lie. In 1889 Chicago had the peculiar qualifications of growth which made such adventuresome pilgrimages even on the part of young girls plausible. Its many and growing commercial opportunities gave it widespread fame, which made of it a giant magnet, drawing to itself, from all quarters, the hopeful and the hopeless—those who had their fortune yet to make and those whose fortunes and affairs had reached a disastrous climax elsewhere. It was a city of over 500,000, with the ambition, the daring, the activity of a metropolis of a million. Its streets and houses were already scattered over an area of seventy-five square miles. Its population was not so much thriving upon established commerce as upon the industries which prepared for the arrival of others. The sound of the hammer engaged upon the erection of new structures was everywhere heard.32Great industries were moving in. The huge railroad corporations which had long before recognized the prospects of the place had seized upon vast tracts of land for transfer and shipping purposes. Streetcar lines had been extended far out into the open country in anticipation of rapid growth.The city had laid miles and miles of streets and sewers through regions where, perhaps, one solitary house stood out alone—a pioneer of the populous ways to be.33There were regions open to the sweeping winds and rain, which were yet lighted throughout the night with long, blinking lines of gas-lamps, fluttering in the wind. Narrow board walks extended out, passing here a house, and there a store, at far intervals, eventually ending on the open prairie.
32 Dreiser just wanted to pop in and remind you that he does indeed have a penis. He's going to do this from time to time. Get ready.
33 Sewers! You hear that, Upton Sinclair? Chicago was fucking fancy, so keep your muckraking to yourself and let our girl live out her pre-health code regulated dreams.
In the central portion was the vast wholesale and shopping district, to which the uninformed seeker for work usually drifted. It was a characteristic of Chicago then, and one not generally shared by other cities, that individual firms of any pretension occupied individual buildings. The presence of ample ground made this possible. It gave an imposing appearance to most of the wholesale houses, whose offices were upon the ground floor and in plain view of the street. The large plates of window glass, now so common, were then rapidly coming into use, and gave to the ground floor offices a distinguished and prosperous look.34 The casual wanderer could see as he passed a polished array of office fixtures, much frosted glass, clerks hard at work, and genteel businessmen in "nobby" suits and clean linen lounging about or sitting in groups.35Polished brass or nickel signs at the square stone entrances announced the firm and the nature of the business in rather neat and reserved terms. The entire metropolitan center possessed a high and mighty air calculated to overawe and abash the common applicant, and to make the gulf between poverty and success seem both wide and deep.
34 Windows were a big fucking deal back then. Before large windows, people could just carry on their personal business with no scrutiny. Now they were being judged. In short, windows were a precursor to reality television.
35 Wiki says "nobby" means anything related to clerks. Urban Dictionary says "nobby" means "A manky old guy with a grizzly full beard and skanky unwashed hair." I suppose I'll subscribe to the latter definition for research purposes.
Into this important commercial region the timid Carrie went. She walked east along Van Buren Street through a region of lessening importance, until it deteriorated into a mass of shanties and coal-yards, and finally verged upon the river. She walked bravely forward, led by an honest desire to find employment and delayed at every step by the interest of the unfolding scene, and a sense of helplessness amid so much evidence of power and force which she did not understand. These vast buildings, what were they? These strange energies and huge interests, for what purposes were they there? She could have understood the meaning of a little stone-cutter's yard at Columbia City, carving little pieces of marble for individual use, but when the yards of some huge stone corporation came into view, filled with spur tracks and flat cars, transpierced by docks from the river and traversed overhead by immense trundling cranes of wood and steel, it lost all significance in her little world.
It was so with the vast railroad yards, with the crowded array of vessels she saw at the river, and the huge factories over the way, lining the water's edge. Through the open windows she could see the figures of men and women in working aprons, moving busily about. The great streets were wall-lined mysteries to her; the vast offices, strange mazes which concerned far-off individuals of importance. She could only think of people connected with them as counting money, dressing magnificently, and riding in carriages.36
What they dealt in, how they labored, to what end it all came, she had only the vaguest conception. It was all wonderful, all vast, all far removed, and she sank in spirit inwardly and fluttered feebly at the heart as she thought of entering any one of these mighty concerns and asking for something to do—something that she could do—anything.
36 Carrie's imagination is a PG version of a Lil Wayne video because that's obviously what comes to mind when you see turn-of-the-century Chicago.
Clementine was born on July 2011 to an unknown breeder in New Jersey. She made her Internet debut on September 2012, and since then, her Tumblr book review series has gained acclaim from authors like Emma Straub, Ned Vizzini, and Jami Attenberg. In her spare time, Clementine sleeps, eats, and exercises on her scurry wheel.
Sometimes reading the classics is a chore, but not so with the snarky annotations by Clementine the Hedgehog. Clem now takes on Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. On each page, she inserts her keen insights, dark sense of humor, and cut-the-crap commentary, crafting a 21st-century literary criticism for distraction addicts everywhere.
Clementine Classics: Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser is produced in two formats: a standard reflowable edition for e-readers, and a custom iBooks edition for the iPad. Both formats feature an innovative display layout that takes full advantage of the digital medium and allows Clementine's annotations to live alongside Dreiser's original text.