Study Guide

Sister Carrie Chapter 3

By Theodore Dreiser

Chapter 3

We Question of Fortune: Four-fifty a Week

  • Carrie finally works up the nerve to go into a dry goods store (similar to a modern-day department store) to ask if they're hiring. But she can't find anyone to ask, and she starts to feel overwhelmed so she leaves.
  • She continues to walk the downtown streets. She thinks about going back to the dry goods store and turns back, but along the way she spots another prospect: a shoe company. She asks if they need help, but is told that they don't. Argh.
  • The rejection isn't too devastating though—the man she talked to was polite, which encourages her so much that she tries her luck at a clothing company. This time, the manager she talks to is a jerk from the get-go; she doesn't even have it in her to ask if the company is hiring and leaves.
  • After some more walking, she realizes she's starving… too bad the only thing she can afford on the menu of the restaurant she goes to is soup. But it revives her enough to continue the job search.
  • Carrie makes her way back to the dry goods store. The good news: she finds someone to talk to about getting a job. The bad news: they won't hire her because she has no experience. She's confronted with that super annoying catch for first-time job seekers: she needs experience to get a job, but she needs a job to get experience.
  • But all is not lost, and the guy she talks to at the dry goods place gives her a tip that department stores often hire young women to be clerks (presumably without experience).
  • So it's off to the department sto— Wait, not so fast. The narrator gives us another little tutorial on the history of the department store first. The department store was just popping up in the U.S. around the time that the novel is set and, boy, were these stores a big deal. (You think the mall is crowded on the weekend these days? That's nothing compared to the mobs of shoppers in the late nineteenth century.)
  • Once inside the store, Carrie is totally mesmerized by all the stuff: "the remarkable displays of trinkets, dress goods, stationery, and jewelry." Uh, what happened to the job search?
  • Carrie's pretty bummed out by the fact that she can't afford to buy anything. To top it off, she's really jealous of all the well-dressed women shoppers and shop girls around her.
  • She finally manages to tear herself away, and goes to the store's managerial office where a bunch of other girls are waiting to apply for jobs. She eyes the competition and fears they look way more sophisticated than she does. After a nearly hour-long wait, she's interviewed. The interview is short but not sweet, and that pesky "lack of experience" thing comes up again.
  • Next thing we know, she's out on the street practically in tears, ruminating on the crushing disappointments of the day. Just as she's about to throw in the towel, she comes across a hat-making company with a Help Wanted sign posted out front for "wrappers and stitchers."
  • She goes inside to find a pretty sorry-looking crowd of laborers; right away, Carrie concludes that this is definitely not her dream job. But when a foreman comes up to her inquiring what she's doing there, Carrie ends up asking if he needs help. He offers to give her a position putting the finishing touches on hats, and just like that she's hired.
  • After she leaves, she's not exactly turning cartwheels through the streets of Chicago. She thinks about how pitiful the pay is ("three and a half" per week. Yup—a whopping $3.50, barely enough to pay for a latte today), and she can't get all of those haggard-looking laborers out of her mind. She figures maybe the solution is to keep looking, so it's back to the job search grind; she tries a few places with no luck, and gets treated rudely to boot.
  • Demoralized, Carrie makes one last-ditch effort at a wholesale shoe house (shoe factory). The man she speaks to tells her he's not sure if he can offer her anything, but to come on Monday morning and he'll see if he can find something for her to do. The pay here is a whole dollar more than the other place, so she agrees.
  • When Carrie steps outside, Chicago suddenly seems full of lollipops and rainbows. She heads for home to tell Minnie the great news.