Study Guide

Sister Carrie Chapter 1

By Theodore Dreiser

Chapter 1

The Magnet Attracting: A Waif Amid Forces

  • Carrie Meeber is on a train bound for her sister's place in Chicago. She's eighteen and it's her first time ever leaving her small town, so she's kind of nervous, but also pretty psyched. Our trusty narrator provides us with a description of Carrie, right down to her tiny feet.
  • Carrie's riding along when suddenly the dude sitting behind her strikes up a conversation. She's a bit hesitant to respond at first because of her "maidenly reserve," but she's feeling daring what with being away from home and all, so she starts chatting.
  • He can tell this is probably her first trip to the city even though she tries to pretend like she's some big world traveler. We learn that this guy (whose name is Drouet, by the way) is a drummer. No, not like Animal from the Muppets—in a nineteenth-century kind of way, when drummer meant traveling salesman.
  • Drouet is one very well-dressed guy. In fact, Carrie feels a bit self-conscious about her own simple clothes after checking out his fancy threads. Drouet's not tripping about her garb, though, and tells Carrie about the places she needs to check out, like Lincoln Park and Michigan Boulevard; it's pretty clear that he is totally hitting on her.
  • And she seems to be into him, too. Or maybe she just likes the attention? He tells her she reminds him of a famous actress.
  • As the train draws closer to the station, Drouet offers to show Carrie around while he's there in Chicago on business, but she's not sure and thinks her sister might not be too pleased with the idea of her going off with some random guy. Drouet dismisses her concern and manages to get Carrie to give him the address of her sister's place.
  • Next stop: Chicago. As the train pulls in to the city, Carrie takes it all in. It's kind of a big deal because, remember, this is her first time ever in the big city.
  • The train stops and they get off. Drouet tries to carry her suitcase, but Carrie wants to get rid of him pronto before sis shows up, so she pretty much tells him to get lost. He obliges, but tells her he's just going to hang around the station for a while in case her sister doesn't show; this pleases Carrie.
  • Carrie's sister arrives and spots her on the platform. They hug in a kind of perfunctory way, and right off the bat, we're alerted to "a change of affectional atmosphere." It turns out that Carrie's sister is a bit of a Debbie Downer—we're told, "Her sister carried with her most of the grimness of shift and toil." Good times.
  • Carrie's sis asks all the usual questions: how're Mom and Dad, etc. Carrie answers distractedly, since she's looking for Drouet who indeed kept his promise to hang around to see that she met up with sister safely.
  • The two exchange secret smiles.