Study Guide

Sister Carrie Chapter 2

By Theodore Dreiser

Chapter 2

What Poverty Threatened: Of Granite and Brass

  • Carrie arrives at her sister's one-floor apartment (and we now learn that sis is named Minnie).
  • Pretty much the only thing Carrie likes about the place is the sound of the bells on the horse-cars outside, and the apartment itself is pretty drab with shoddy furniture and threadbare carpet.
  • Minnie promptly puts Carrie to work, plopping down her baby into Carrie's arms as Minnie gets dinner together. No slacking in this house, it seems.
  • We meet Minnie's husband, Mr. Hanson, who seems less than thrilled to have his sister-in-law crashing at his apartment. He drops a hint that she'd better start looking for work. Stat.
  • Carrie takes a better look around and gets more depressed by the meagerness of the apartment. She's also trying to keep the baby amused, but she's no Mary Poppins; the kid starts crying and Mr. Hanson has to rescue it (and yes, the baby is referred to as it—poor kid has neither gender nor name).
  • The meal gets underway, and Carrie talks about her plans to start her job search the next day. Mr. Hanson is eager to help in this department and tells her exactly where she should look: the big manufacturing houses along Franklin Street where "lots of girls work."
  • They chat a bit more about the neighborhood until Mr. Hanson abruptly jumps up and announces he's got to get up early so he's going to hit the sack.
  • Time for some girl talk… Well, not exactly. Carrie asks what time Minnie gets up for breakfast and Minnie replies that she gets up at the crack of dawn: 4:40AM. They finish washing dishes.
  • Carrie concludes that starting something up with Drouet is probably not the best idea, given the conservative vibe around the Hanson household, so she dashes off to get some paper and ink from Minnie. She writes to Drouet telling him not to stop by, using the pretty lame excuse that her sister's place is too small.
  • Should she say anything more, like what a cool dude she thinks he is? Nah, she decides, short and sweet is better, though she does, of course, obsess over whether to sign it very truly or sincerely. Then she seals and addresses it.
  • Carrie moves to the alcove in the front room where she'll be staying. She rocks on a rocking chair in front of the window, looking out onto the street until she gets tired and tumbles into bed.
  • By the time Carrie rolls out of bed at 8:00AM, Mr. Hanson is long gone (he gets up almost as insanely early as his wife to get to his job at the stock-yards).
  • We learn a bit more about Minnie and the changes she's undergone since Carrie had last seen her. The "thin, rugged, rapidly aging" woman (at the ripe old age of twenty-seven) is clearly in need of a makeover in Carrie's view, and Minnie shares her husband's sentiment that Carrie had better get off her butt and find a job. She's optimistic that Carrie could fill the illustrious position of shop girl.
  • The narrator assures us that we'll be getting a front row seat to Carrie's job search in just a moment, but first the narrator assumes that we need a quick lesson on the Chicago commercial scene, so we're treated to a few paragraphs of that. It turns out that in 1889, during the Gilded Age, the city was growing so fast that there were lots of business opportunities in Chicago, which drew tons of men and women looking to make some dough (this part kind of feels like a history book, but hang in because it helps set the scene).
  • And, as promised, here's where we meet up with Carrie again, as she's walking through the "vast wholesale and shopping district" of Chicago. She's a little intimidated by all these huge buildings, and she's also pretty freaked out by the prospect of actually going into one of them and asking for a job.