Theodore Dreiser, born in Terre Haute, Indiana, USA, was raised in poverty and in a German-speaking environment. He left home for Chicago at age 16. After a period of odd jobs and a year at the University of Indiana, he became a Midwestern newspaper reporter and, in New York after 1894, a magazine feature writer. In 1892, married Sara White, but their marriage wasn’t happy, so they have been separated since 1909 and never officially divorced
Sister Carrie （1900）， his first and still highly regarded novel, was withheld from general distribution because of it was supposed amoral, and its commercial failure plunged him into financial distress and mental breakdown. Some reasons which caused the difficulties of publish can be seen from the social background of the society of that time. At the time, United States is experiencing a rapid social change, it was transforming from free capitalism transition to the monopoly capitalism. The whole American literature was indulged in idealism, many writers preferred to describe the optimistic aspect of life. The novel is regarded as entertainment products; works is full of illusory ideal and covered by romantic color. The exploiter and exploitee lived a completely different life. The ugly phenomenon in the society was not reflected in literature works. In Sister Carrie, Dreiser truthfully reveals the dark side of the social life, and that’s the reason why the author constantly suffered from persecution. The novels have been classified as "banned", and can not be published in the America.
Sister Carrie is about a young country girl who moves to the big city where she starts realizing her own American Dream, first as a mistress to men that she perceives as superior, and later becoming a famous actress. It has been called the "greatest of all American urban novels."
The personal life of the writer has very close relationship with his work Sister Carrie. There are some similarities between the author and the heroine. First, the heroine was born in a poor family just as same as the author. That’s why the author can know so clearly about the psychological activity of the poor girl Carrie and described it in such delicate words. Second, it can be seen from the novel that the place where the girl chase her dream was Chicago. The author also has gone to the same place to fulfill his dream. So he saw what Carrie saw. For instance, how the rich men lived, how they enjoy their life, what was the poor’s life like, with such a living experience, the gap between the rich and the poor was so truly reflected before our eyes. Third, they all once are earning meager support from menial jobs. Forth, they all have the same dream. Dreiser has admitted that he was once chased after the pleasure from material things, but he despised it afterwards. Carrie’s life was always surrounded by her chasing for a better material life. At the beginning, she left her hometown and came for her sister. But when her sister’s living couldn’t attract her anymore, she went to the salesman Drouet, then Hursthood and at last the theater. Except the heroine, the character Hursthood was not so happy in his marriage life, so was the author. Hursthood was suppressed and looking for something new, thrill and beautiful. Maybe Hursthood’s mental state was just like the author’s during that period. Sven Hanson, Minnie's husband, of Swedish extraction and taciturn temperament. As we all know, Dreiser’s father was a Swedish, a severe rigid and distant man. We can slightly suppose that the character of Sven Hanson was originated from his father.
As for Carrie, there’s such a sentence in the book: “In Carrie—as in many of our worldings do they not?— instinct and reason, desire and understanding, were at war for the mastery. She followed whither her craving led. She was as yet more drawn than she drew. ” This seems tells us that the currency of the society is an overwhelming power that pushes one to do something and defines the view of value for the people. I think this sentence is the perfect description for Carrie and all her stories, every choices she made just show us how suitable this description is for her. Through the heroine, the author tries to reveal the human nature nakedly before our eyes. When Sister Carrie ran out of her sister’s home without any money, she met Drouet and he gave her ten soft dollar bills. On the one hand, she felt ashamed because she has been weak to take it. But on the other hand, her need was so dire, she was still glad. That’s the contradiction of her nature. After she met Hursthood, she was attracted by him. On the one hand, she felt guilty. But on another, she was longing for a better life. And it’s also the same situation when she left Hursthood when he became poor. As for Drouet, the book tells us in regard to his pursuit of women, he meant them no harm, because he did not conceive of the relation which he hoped to hold with them as being harmful. He chased women not because he was a cold-blooded, dark, scheming villain, but because his inborn desire urged him to that as a chief delight. That’s the contradiction of Drouet’s nature.
Most people say Sister Carrie’s story is a story of her American dream comes true. But I disagree with it. Carrie does have her dream come true, finally she lives a rich life and is admired by others. But what is American dream? It is a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward?social mobility?achieved through hard work. While from the book I can’t see a hardworking girl. When Carrie’s looking for a job, she is so timid and can only see the material things that workers get instead of the pain they bear. After she get a job of making shoes in a factory, she does feel happy at first, but soon facing the easy money from she does want to do this work anymore. Of course, as a girl, in such a society, with such economic situation, she might not have so many choices. But, although Carrie did something not so good, I still can not hate this character. Because she’s so real, she just follows her nature to live her life. She’s beautiful and smart, if she is born in a wealthy family, then she will not depend men to live. But no one can choose where to be born; destiny seems just so unfair sometimes. The most pity thing I think is that although Carrie lives a rich life at last, but she doesn’t find the true meaning of living. But the true meaning of life is always obscure; nobody knows exactly what it is. So why bother to think about it, just live our life good.