Naturalism in Sister Carrie
A woman should some day write the complete philosophy of clothes；No
matter how young;it is one of the things she wholly comprehends；There is an
indescribably faint line in the matter of man's apparel which somehow divides for her those who are worth glancing at and those who are not；Once an
individual has passed this faint line on the way downward he will get no glance from her；There is another line at which the dress of a man will cause her to study her own；”
---from Sister Carrie
Naturalism was a term created by the French novelist, Emile Zola. He believed that people were not really free. Rather their lives, opinions and morality were all controlled by social, economic and psychological causes. At the end of nineteenth century came a generation of writers whose ideas of the working of the universe and whose perception of the society's disorder led them to naturalism. A new and harsher realism, naturalism was introduced to the United States. American Naturalism is a more advanced stage of realism thtoward the close of the 19 century；The American naturalists accepted the
more negative implications of Darwin's theory and used it to account for the behavior of those characters in literary works who were conceived as more or less cornplex combinations of inherited attributes;their habits conditioned by
social and economic forces；
This article will elaborate on the naturalism reflected in the novel Sister
Carrie by Theodore Dreiser from the behaviors and fate of the protagnist Carrie Meeber.
Sister Carrie tells the story of two characters: Carrie Meeber, an ordinary girl who rises from a low-paid wage earner to a high-paid actress, and George Hurstwood, a member of the upper middle class who falls from his comfortable lifestyle to a life on the streets.
At that time, America were undergoing the industrial revolution, which pushed the economy and social reformation to a high speed developing rate. Money-making had been the central pursuit. What 's more, wealth and power were the only two standards to classify the people into
classes, the lowest working class could not even keep body and soul together, they were working hard to survive in society. Carrie is the typical figure in that social background, who is struggling for her own hopeless life . Thus, she leaves her rural home to seek work in Chicago. In Chicago, she lives with her sister, and work for a time in a shoe factory. Meager income and terrible working condition oppress her imaginative spirit. After a period of unemployment and loneliness, she accepts Drouet and becomes his mistress. During his absence;she falls in love with Drouet’s friend Hurstwood, a middle aged, married,comparatively intelligent culture saloon manager. They finally elope. They live together for three years more.Carrie becomes mature in intellect and emotion while Hurstwood steadily declines. At last, she thinks him
too great a burden and leaves him. Hurstwood sinks lower and lower. After becoming a beggar, he commits suicide, while Carrie becomes a star of musical comedy. In spite of her success.,she is lonely and dissatisfied；
To some extent, Carrie’s fallen period of her life is caused by the social background. If she didn’t live in that society, or not penniless, she might never
become other’s mistress, or elope with a married man. This exactly acts as a
good demonstration of naturalism, which believes that people are dominated by their environment or heredity. American naturalists emphasized that world was amoral that men and women had no free will, that their lives were controlled by heredity and the environment, that religious "truths" were illusory, and that the destiny of humanity was misery in life and ablivion in death. The pessimism and deterministic ideas of naturalism pervaded in this novel.
Besides, at that time, the idea of American Dream was prevalent. People were in hot pursuit of vanity and wealth. In the beginning, on the train, Carrie felt ashamed and overshadowed by the well-dressed Drouet. Also, when in Chicago, she refused to tell Drouet her address because of her humble shelter. Plus, Carrie pursues beautiful clothes later.All these provide a sound proof of the naturalistic belief that characters are conditioned by the social environment.
From the traditional aspect, Carrie’s behaviors are amoral, and she
should end up miserable. Instead she succeeds though feels lonely. Naturalism in literature is a moral and spiritual absolute zero, conceivable but unattainable Neither Carrie nor Hurstwood earn their fates through virtue or vice, but rather through random circumstance. Their successes and failures have no moral value and his stance marks Sister Carrie as a departure from
the conventional literature of the period.
As a naturalistic writer, Dreiser stresses determinism in Sister Carrie
which deal with everyday life, often with its sordid side. His characters are pathetic in their inability to escape their fates. His characters are subject to the control of the natural forces of heredity and environment.