So I felt like I hadn't read anything "meaty" in a while and picked this up. I was expecting a turn of the century momralizing tale, dense with rich language and poetic prose. Instead, this is not as straightforward.
The novel opens with "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 raidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse. Of an intermediate balance, under the circumstances, there is no possibilty." The expectation here is that Carrie is going to fall and we are going to watch it unfold. Certainly upon immediately meeting Drouet we are led to expect that she will soon become a fallen woman.
The moral, however is not so overt. In the end, it is Carrie who succeeds (although she is lonely and we can see here that "money can't buy happiness"), while Hurstwood dies penniless. The real distinction between the two (both followed impulses and believed wholly in material objects) seems to be that Hurstwood is a thief and Carrie is not.
Drouet, however is upheld as pure throughout. He is nice and generous and helps Carrie along her way without ever holding a grudge or expecting more than his due. He is also impressed by materialism, but seems to be more genuine in his striving for friendship. Driesder frequently describes him as simple, but ultimately he seems to be the only one of the three principals who ends satisfied.
At times I thought of American Psycho (NYC almost 100 years later still obessessed with fashion and status). Clearly Dreisder states: "When each individual realises for himself that this thing primarily stands for and should only be accepted as a moral due--that it should be paid out as honestly stored energy, and not as a usurped privilege--many of our social, religious, and political troubles will have permanently passed....The old definition: 'Money: something everybody else has and I must get.'"
There were also several other interesting quotes throughout. As when Dreiser describes the subtle ways that body language and tone of voice can permeate the environment: "At this there was a slight halt in the natural reply. Thoughts are a strangely permeating factor. At her suggestion of going to the theatre, the unspoken shade of dispproval to teh doing of those things which inolved the expenditure of money--shades of feeling which arose in the mind of Handon and then in Minnie--slightly afected the atmosphere of the table."
I found this to be odd given that in the end Carrie's obsession with material gain did not in fact do her harm and that Drouet and Husrstwood also shared the obsession: "She made the average feminine distinction between clothes, putting worth, goodness, and distinction in a dress suit, and leaving all the unlovely qualities and those beneath ntice in overalls and jumper."
Ultimately, I was surprised with the forward thinking; Carrie is a pioneer of feminism (of sorts) in that she ends up supporting herself and Hurstwood through her acting. Certainly she is bitter at the turn of events (maybe not so forward thinking with her expectations) when she is forced to provide him with purse money and to pay the accounts with the grocer and butcher while he "makes house."
I'm glad I read it and it did contain a few surprises, but I was slightly disppointed, given the acclaim afforded to this novel.