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Theodore Dreiser builds a female character who desires independence and self-worth. Carrie Meeber, of the novel Sister Carrie, defines her desires in life as “I want to see something,” (Dreiser, ). Yet Dreiser continually pushes against this philosophy and builds a character that beyond her knowledge wants to be something. Ironically Carrie defines her self- worth through being something to be seen. Carrie believes the possession of material objects and the ability to buy objects, is the manner in which she can earn the right to be gazed upon.
Carrie lives in a world where material objects carry great importance, and she believes that owning exquisite material objects will provide her with happiness. Often, Dreiser describes Carrie’s self- philosophy as conditional; if only I can have this, I will be happy. The city is a place where Carrie believes she can succeed on her own. Dreiser describes her as “A half equipped little knight she was, venturing to reconnoiter the mysterious city and dreaming wild dreams of some vague, far-off supremacy which should make it prey and subject, the proper penitent, groveling at a woman’s slipper,” (Dreiser, 4). From the opening of the novel, Carrie is not pictured as woman who believes a husband is needed to obtain her desires and goals, and has the strength to pursue her own success and happiness.
Throughout the novel, Dreiser portrays Carrie’s desire to be the object of gazing. Carrie learns to envy being gazed upon, and the social grace that accompanies the act as Drouet gazes upon a girl who “was pretty in a way, the chief impression she made by being by grace of a certain hauteur of glance, or better, no glance” (Dreiser, 101). Carrie begins to adopt mannerisms in order to attract male attention, most importantly to be looked upon by Drouet the same way he watched other graceful women. She looked in the mirror and pursed up her lips, accompanying it with a toss of the head as she had seen t…


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