To this day, Sister Carrie remains one of the most controversial novels of its time. The remarkably realistic characters and contentious situations created by Theodore Dreiser illustrate the double standards within a growing American society at the turn of the twentieth century. Naturalism plays a large part in the development of each character and their pathetic inability to evade their trivial fates (Theodore). The perverse fascination and distaste surrounding this incapability mirrors a society's hypocrisy of its own social standards.
For his first novel, Dreiser opted to paint a realistic portrait of America for what it really was- materialistic (Gerber 52). "The money ideal would be exposed as the great motivating purpose of life in the United States: one's relative affluence at any level of society determining the degree creature comfort one might enjoy, the measure of prestige one might own, and the extent of social power one might command" (Gerber 52-53). Sister Carrie completely reiterates America's obsession with money because there is not one character whose own status symbol isn't determined economically (Gerber 53).
At the end of the Civil War, big business boomed and there was now a preoccupation with "conspicuous consumption" (Ward). Capitalism roared and consumers began to see each other for what they thought they really were: money. Dreiser first describes his Caroline Meeber not by her opinions or actions, but by what she owns: "a small trunk, a cheap imitation alligator-skin satchel, ...and a small yellow snap purse" (Dreiser Sister 3). Although Carrie cannot afford a real alligator-skin satchel, she owns an imitation so that she appears to be something she is not (Ward). False appearances are a reiterated theme throughout Sister Carrie.
Upon entering Chicago and meeting Drouet, the reader becomes attentive to Carrie's fascination with the upper class. "In addition to representing...