Student Writing Awards


University of Northern Iowa Dept. of English Language and Literature student writing award of excellence for critical essay

Document Type



Young women in literature; Sex role in literature; Mistresses in literature; Dreiser, Theodore, 1871-1945. Sister Carrie;


If there is a moral to the story for Sister Carrie by Theodor Dreiser, it is not easily discovered. The story follows no set pattern. There is no music to bring the tale to a neat end. There is no repentance with clear cut reasons why each character failed. The reader must instead ferret out “the moral of the story” themselves. Strangely enough, it seems the only way to do this is to use the old formulaic moral stories themselves. And what formula can we use to evaluate Sister Carrie? At first, it seems apparent that this novel is a story of a fallen woman. However, Dreiser choose to reverse the gender of his fallen character. It might seems that Carrie, seduced by Drouet, would become the fallen woman. In truth, it is not Drouet who truly seduces Carrie. The city of Chicago is actually Carrie’s seductive lover, and because she does not love Drouet, Carrie can easily abandon him for a better man. Rejecting his family and fumbling through irrational acts to gain Carrie, Hurstwood puts himself on the path of the fallen woman. Unemployable in New York, Hurstwood must depend on Carrie for monetary support, which leads to a change in gender roles. As Hurstwood takes on the female role, he seals his fate as a fallen woman. Hurstwood receives the moral retribution for his actions when he commits suicide. Thus, the reader finds the moral of the story.




Department of English Language and Literature

Object Description

16 p.



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