Study Guide

Sister Carrie Chapter 34

By Theodore Dreiser

Chapter 34

The Grind of the Millstones: A Sample of Chaff

  • Carrie is pretty upset about her financial situation now that Hurstwood's business has closed down. She's worried she'll have to go back to living on the verge of poverty like she did at her sister's place when she first got to Chicago, though now it's even worse because she's had a taste of the rich life through the Vances.
  • Hurstwood tries to find another business to invest in, but doesn't find anything he can afford. To top it off, economic times are suddenly tough all around: the unemployment rate in NYC is skyrocketing due to the Panic of 1893. He tells himself not to worry—he's got enough savings to get by for the next six months—but then he thinks about how Mrs. Hurstwood and his kids are probably living the high life with all of his money, which makes him feel worse again.
  • He does more searching for business opportunities, but comes up with nothing so he goes home. Carrie notices how miserable he looks, and it's not a good look for him, she concludes. Too kind, Carrie, too kind.
  • They're both in a pretty bad mood, so let the bickering begin. Hurstwood leaves to go downtown. Arguments over money have become routine for Hurstwood and Carrie, and they're not getting along well at all. Carrie, especially, seems to be repelled by Hurstwood.
  • Hurstwood's last day at the saloon arrives. He receives a little money from the selling of the saloon's fixtures, and Hurstwood and his partner Shaughnessy part ways with no love lost between them.
  • When Hurstwood returns home, Carrie asks if he's going to be able to get something else going. He tells her he'll have to save up first.
  • For a while, Hurstwood keeps looking for a business to invest in. When he realizes that's not going to happen until he saves up more money though, he decides he needs to get a job in order to save money (kind of how that works, right?).
  • The problem? The type of job he's qualified for, manager, seems impossible to get: "The papers contained no requests for managers. Such positions, he knew well enough were either secured by long years of service or were bought with a half or third interest" (34.78). So in other words, he can't get the manager job unless he buys into the business, but he can't afford to buy into the business without getting a job. Bummer.
  • Hurstwood starts to look for work anyway, and as he's walking around downtown, he realizes he has no experience at doing anything else. It gets chilly so he goes into a hotel lobby to sit down for a bit. 
  • He thinks about maybe applying for a bartender job, but can't bring himself to do it, so he goes home and slumps into the rocking chair. He reads the newspaper as Carrie makes dinner.
  • Oh and she has some bad news: rent's due.