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CARRIE'S OTHER SISTER James L. Machor Ohio State University at Lima Near the beginning of Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser's young heroine confronts the first of several pivotal decisions she will have to make in the novel. Having lost her job at the Rhodes, Morgenthau, and Scott shoe factory, Carrie realizes that she must attempt to secure another position or return home, for her sister Minnie and brother-in-law Sven lack the means and the inclination to support her. Yet neither alternative is appealing. To return home would mean relinquishing her "dreams of some vague, far-off supremacy" that initially drew her to Chicago, but to obtain work and remain with the Hansons threatens to envelop her in a dull round of meaningless labor and frigid domestic life devoid of the nurturing she requires.1 Carrie's re-encounter with Drouet, however, suddenly presents her with a third choice that, after some deliberation, she embraces. Her decision to be kept by Drouet, in whose "radiant presence" she feels "so much looked after and cared for" (p. 58), thus starts Carrie on a series of environmental relocations culminating in her theatrical triumphs in New York. In these opening scenes, Dreiser establishes a pattern of opposition between warmth and cold that forms, as Ellen Moers has noted, an important thematic and structural principle in the novel.2 A virtual antithesis to Drouet with his "sunshine and good humor," Minnie seems a cold, hardened woman lacking the sisterly concern that might serve as a bond between her and Carrie. But this impression of Minnie, which exists in both the version of the novel published by Doubleday and Page and the recently reconstructed University of Pennsylvania edition, is not the one Dreiser initially created. The holograph of the novel reveals that Dreiser originally conceived Minnie as a slightly warmer, more human individual capable of eliciting sympathy and understanding from readers. Although Dreiser's subsequent revision consisted only of deleting a few short passages and altering a word or two at several points in the narrative, these modifications in the aggregate have a significant impact on the portrayal of both Minnie and Carrie.3 Most of the deletions occur in Chapters 3 and 4 following the disclosure that Minnie "had changed considerably since Carrie had seen her" last. Carrying "with her much of the grimness of shift and toil," she has become a "thin though rugged woman" whose ideas of life were "fast hardening into even narrower conceptions of pleasure and duty than had ever been hers in a thoroughly circumscribed youth" (p. 11, 15). Separated from the sister she had known in Columbia City, Carrie finds herself in the presence of a virtual stranger, cut off from the 200Notes sustaining familial support, the "richer soil" and "better atmosphere," she needs while adjusting to her new locale (p. 54). Yet in the holograph the gap between home and the Hansons is not as broad. At the close of Chapter 3, the renewed vigor Carrie feels at having landed a job leads her to think "what would not Minnie say! What would not the family think at home. Ah, long the winter in Chicago—the lights, the crowd, the amusement. This was a great, pleasing metropolis after all."4 In this original passage Carrie's anticipations of pleasure are linked to the approbation of Minnie in a way that immediately evokes thoughts of home and other family members. Dreiser's decision to eliminate the second sentence of the passage, however, erases any lingering connections in Carrie's mind between her family and Minnie and reinforces the impression of the latter as an alien presence incapable of engendering in Carrie feelings of sisterly camaraderie and thoughts of the home in which they had grown up together. This gulf between Carrie and Minnie exists to a large extent because the two women are now so dissimilar. Indeed, an important difference between them is Minnie's inability to relate to her sister's insatiable craving for pleasure and new experience. The niggardly temperament that defines Minnie's attitude serves as a token of the cramped lifestyle so insufferable to Carrie. These qualities, however, are tempered in the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 199-204
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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