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					The Tragedy of
Women in Sister
Carrie and Jennie

       Shi Wei
Chapter 1 Introduction
Chapter 2 Theodore Dreiser’s
          Philosophical Ideas
Chapter 3 Character Analysis
Chapter 4 The Tragic Causes
Chapter 5 Conclusion
   Sister Carrie and Jennie Gerhardt are
two novels written by American writer,
Theodore Dreiser. They are selected
because they are the most representative
of Dreiser’s achievement as a novelist.
The heroines in the two novels are tragic
figures; however, their tragic
are due to many similar reasons. From
this paper we have conceived that the
tragic destiny constitutes women’s
ultimate tragedy. Neither Carrie nor
Jennie has finally got the happiness that
belongs to them. They have many
differences but their ends are the same.
Although Carrie changed her economic
status by earning more and more, she
could never change her social standing.
She fails in success. But although
Jennie finally lost all her relatives, she
was full of happiness, peace and
contentment. She succeeds in failure.
Chapter 1 Introduction
   Theodore Dreiser is the greatest
American social novelist of 20th century.
He describes broadly and deeply about
the true picture of American society,
exposing and criticizing the dark side of
the society, portraying the difference
between the poor and the rich. All his life
Dreiser writes many works. In his early
works, Sister Carrie and Jennie
Gerhardt describe the tragedy of two
suffering women. Carrie and Jennie
are born of poor families, both of them
are eager to live a happy life. But they
find that, in the American society
where money is everything, it is
impossible to get the ideal life by
working hard. Carrie satisfies her own
lust by fall and loses the virtues of the
Laborers. Her fall is due to the society
where there is great difference between
the poor and the rich and the seduction
of the capitalist life style.
   Unlike Carrie, Jennie’s fall is
completely forced by the environment
In order to save the family in trouble.
Her fall is self-sacrifice. She doesn’t
lose the purity and nobility in her own
Chapter 2
Theodore Dreiser’s
Philosophical Ideas
   Sister Carrie and Jennie Gerhardt are
the products of naturalism. This allows
us to examine Theodore Dreiser’s works
within the frame of naturalism. The
tragedy of characters in his works is
associated with his philosophical ideas.
Naturalism and Tragedy
  In naturalism, characters do not
have free will; external and internal
forces, environment, or heredity
control their behavior. This belief is
called determinism. Naturalism’s
philosophical framework can be
simply described as pessimistic
materialistic determinism. So
Naturalistic writers studied human
beings governed by their instincts and
passions, the characters’ lives were
governed by forces of heredity and
Chapter 3
Character Analysis
Carrie is a materialistic girl who
understands what it means to work so
hard and have so little. She is a person
dreaming dreams of success and wealth
In the big city. But after she got
everything that she wanted, she
realized that material comforts do
not bring inner peace and happiness
and that her spirit demands a higher
calling. People admired her, she was
paid very well, and yet there was
always something missing. She can
never be accepted by the society that
created her, and the society can never
bring her the happiness for which she
(Theodore Dreiser Revisited, p.34)
Jennie’s primary desire in life is to give
of herself. Her virtues are compassion,
gentleness, a yielding softness,
generosity, selfless love. In order to
save her family from poverty, she
admires the rich life and the wealth of
capitalist society attracts her very
deeply. Unlike Carrie, she wants to get
It to support her family, not because of
climbing upward. Unlike Carrie, the
beauty which she finds in life and
nature moves her to give rather than
to take. Her virtue makes us feel the
unjustness and ugliness of the society.
It is the society that insults and harms
Chapter 4
The Tragic Causes
  Carrie and Jennie are victims of the
society. Their tragedy lies in either outer
forces---milieu or inner drives----
impulses and instincts. The milieu is
beyond their control, while impulses and
instincts are not overcome by them.
Carrie’s endless pursuit of riches and
fame and Jennie’s desire of saving her
family are influenced by environment
and heredity. So they cannot escape their
tragic fate.
   Both Carrie and Jennie are tragic
figures whose doom results from not only
external but also internal causes. For
internal ones, it’s because of Carrie’s
desire for wealth and Jennie’s self-
sacrificing personality. That is to say
character is fate. For external ones, it’s
the society that we should blame.
Chapter 5 Conclusion
  On the whole, Dreiser is successful in
writing Sister Carrie and Jennie Gerhardt.
For Jennie Gerhardt, as for aspects of
Sister Carrie, Dreiser used memories of
his sisters’ lives for material, describing
the two tragic women. From the chapters
above we know that Carrie fails in
success and Jennie succeeds in failure.
This is also the theme of my paper.
Gerber, Philip. Theodore Dreiser
  Revisited, Twayne Publishers, 1992
翁德修,《二十世纪英美文学精选(下卷) 》,

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