Andrew Delbanco notes in his introduction to the 1999 Modern Library Edition of Sister Carrie that “Carrie’s fate … has been set in motion … by her failure to understand … that a woman does not look a strange man steadily in the eye without signaling to him that she is ready to be included in the system of exchange.” Psychologists today would call Carrie’s eye contact a form of nonverbal communication. Research the forms of nonverbal communication psychologists have identified. Give examples of the types of messages psychologists believe people are sending when they use different nonverbal clues. What kind of nonverbal clue could Carrie have sent if she did not want to interact with Drouet?
Today, critics credit Dreiser with paving the way for writers who came after him to write realistically about life in America. Research late-nineteenth-century life in America. Make at least three comparisons between Carrie’s life and the life of a typical nineteenth-century American that would support critics’ view of Dreiser’s realistic portrayal of the American way of life.
Carrie was most impressed by the clothes people wore. During the late 1800s, fashions actually did make a statement about a person’s socioeconomic status. Read about fashion and social status in the late nineteenth century. Write a paper that discusses the differences in clothes among lower, middle, and upper class people; the changes in the clothing industry that allowed for new looks in clothing; and the changes in women’s fashions in particular.
Draw three portraits of Carrie that portray the three distinct periods in her life: before Drouet’s influence, as a kept woman, and as an actress. Your drawings must accurately reflect both knowledge of Carrie’s life and an understanding of the relationship between fashion and a person’s status.
Depict through illustrations Carrie’s rise to and Hurstwood’s fall from social acceptance. Be sure that your drawings are accurate representations of the time in which events took place.
Dreiser is said to have been an “agnostic.” What is an agnostic? What personal beliefs do you find in Dreiser’s biographical sketches that would support his being an agnostic?
How do you see Dreiser’s agnosticism influencing his work in Sister Carrie?
Many reviewers describe Dreiser’s work using such descriptive nouns as Darwinian, pessimistic determinism, naturalism, and agnosticism. Compare and contrast these terms. Describe specific events from Sister Carrie that would support or repudiate the use of any of these terms in describing this work.
Carrie often felt the effects of gender inequity in her endeavors. While women’s rights were just beginning to be an issue at the time this book was published, there were certain events occurring that brought the idea of equal rights for women to the forefront. Trace the history of the women’s rights movement beginning with the first political convention held in 1848 at Seneca Falls, New York, and ending with the current decade.