This essay argues that Theodore Dreiser’s novel Sister Carrie shows how various forms of paper such as records, licensures, newspapers, and credentials altered late nineteenth-century American conceptions of identity. No longer was identity tied primarily to a person’s word, but how one was presented and preserved on paper began to matter much more significantly at the turn of the century as the nation became bureaucratized with the rise of professionalization, nationally syndicated newspapers, and centralized recordkeeping. By first examining the material nature and history of the novel’s holograph manuscript, as well as Dreiser’s interactions with his paper, the essay analyzes how paper itself becomes a conduit for, and representation of, one’s identity in the novel. Paper ultimately tracks characters’ rises and falls: from Carrie Meeber’s rise as an unemployed flourmill worker’s daughter arriving in Chicago holding a scrap of paper with an address on it, to a star actress with her name in lights and life-sized image on a lithograph poster, to Hurstwood’s fall from a successful man about town who could get Carrie’s acting performances featured in newspapers in Chicago, to a homeless vagrant in New York City unable to afford a newspaper to read about Carrie’s success.


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pp. 317-342
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