Sister Carrie: Dreiser\'s Reversal of Male/Female Roles


The novel Sister Carrie seems to be the platform from which Dreiser
explores his unconventional views of the genders. In the world of Sister
Carrie, it would seem that the role of women as trusting, caring creatures,
and men as scheming victimizers is reversed; it is Carrie that uses the men
around her to get what she wants, and it is those men who are victimized by
her. Thus Dreiser uses this novel as a means of questioning the popular
notions of gender and the role that it plays in modern society.

In Sister Carrie, it would seem that Carrie, while outwardly benign,
and possibly even deserving of her portrayal as sweet and innocent at the
beginning, soon emerges as a ruthless predator in the guise of a helpless
woman. From her relationship with Drouet, she manages to gain the
experience and social skills to pursue higher aspirations. She seems to
stay with Drouet only long enough to see that better things are available,
comforts more extravagant than Drouet can provide, and cultural experiences
and social nuances whose existence Drouet seems unaware of. Drouet, then,
acts as a stepping stone for her. When he no longer has anything he can
offer her, she drops him in favor of Hurstwood. In Hurstwood, Carrie sees
all that lacks in Drouet--a more acute sense of culture and worldliness,
and the wealth to explore the new wonders of civilized Chicago life.
Hurstwood serves as yet another step in her ladder to success, and when he
sinks into poverty and self-disgrace after his divorce, she sees him as a
no longer being an asset, and leaves him in favor of striking out on her
own, leaving him to turn into a beggar, while she makes it big. Too, after
she makes it big, and Drouet comes to see her, she can no longer see him as
a friend worthy of her company, and in fact avoids ever seeing him again.
The fact that she owes her success to Drouet and Hurstwood seems
inconsequential to her. It would seem also at the end of her road to fame,
when she is receiving social invitations from millionaires and famous
figures, that she sees herself as being to good for any of them; she sees
herself as being too good for the company of any man. This aggressive,
self-centered nature, seems to be a departure from the traditional role of
a woman in a such a novel.

It can be said, then, that Carries bullish nature is rather atypical of
the traditionally portrayed role of a woman. The fact that the men in this
novel are the ones being preyed upon, seems to make this a reversal of
roles. It can be argued that Dreiser\'s intention may have been in part to
show how women do not need increased liberties to succeed in the modern
world, but rather that they\'ve been in control of their situations for as
long as there have been men in the world to prey upon. This would seem to
be what Dreiser really intends by this definite reversal of male-female
roles.