Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie : a study of transformation and change in the artistic feminine psyche
Master of Arts
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Theodore Dreiser's novel SISTER CARRIE is almost untouched by modern literary criticism in spite of the fact that it has been in print for ninety years. This unique situation has resulted because the original novel, published in 1900 by Doubleday, was intrusively censored and heavily edited to the point where the characters are significantly altered. The Pennsylvania Edition, published in 1981, is the first to restore original materials and make possible a more accurate study of the novel. This study, incorporating Jungian and archetypal concepts, examines the character of Carrie Meeber in light of that new edition. Chapter I compares the Doubleday and Pennsylvania editions to show that intrusive editing did indeed alter Carrie's character into a facsimile of her original self. It shows how the power of Dreiser's language was diminished, and how the balance between characters in the novel was affected. Chapter II concentrates on the difficulties Dreiser encountered in attempting to publish SISTER CARRIE — difficulties that led to some of the editing problems discussed in Chapter I.^ Criticism of the original Doubleday edition is also examined, showing how it is often inconsistent with Dreiser's restored text and thus presents an inadequate and sometimes distorted view of Carrie. Chapter III portrays Carrie's emerging artistic psyche and the beginning of her transformation from an unsophisticated country girl to a perceptive, intelligent, and talented actress. Barriers of class structure that stand in her way are dissolved as she struggles for a place in a material world. Her audacious participation in the relationship with Charles Drouet eventually results in her introduction to the theatre and the world of acting, but the social and moral balance for which she longs remains unsatisfied. In her dissatisfaction she then leaves Drouet for the sophisticated and more devious George Hurstwood. Chapter IV takes Carrie from Chicago to New York and from her apprenticeship in the theatre to an apprenticeship in human nature. Hurstwood takes over from Drouet as Carrie's mentor, deceiving the unsuspecting Carrie, who must learn to perceive truth through the illusion of appearances. Mrs. Vance enters, serving as a guide, reintroducing Carrie to the world of theatre and to Robert Ames. As Hurstwood fails completely, Carrie calls on her acting experience for support. She learns new and needed skills; her disillusionment with Hurstwood is balanced by her growing selfconfidence as an actress. While the glitter of the theatre world now pulls at Carrie, her compassionate awareness of Hurstwood's failure grooms her for the reappearance of Ames. Ames then assumes the role of mentor, directing Carrie to the meaning of her calling and the true significance of art. The Coda speculates on a future relationship between Carrie and Ames, considering this relationship as a symbol of artistic and spiritual wholeness. Carrie's personal experience has prepared her to be a medium of artistic expression for the world.