Study Guide

Sister Carrie Chapter 4

By Theodore Dreiser

Chapter 4

The Spendings of Fancy: Facts Answer With Sneers

  • Carrie is already fantasizing about all the stuff she's going to buy with her earnings from the new job, but when she tells Minnie the good news, her sister promptly bursts her bubble by asking if Carrie will have to use part of her earnings to pay for carfare. Gee thanks, sis.
  • Mr. Hanson is relieved to hear about Carrie's triumph and his lifted spirits put Minnie in a good mood as the three sit down to dinner. As they merrily eat and converse, Carrie mentions that she'd like to go to a theater downtown to see a show. Weird, awkward silence follows. The narrator lets us know that it's likely the thought of frivolously spending money on something like the theater doesn't sit well with the frugal Mr. Hanson.
  • After Mr. Hanson (whose first name we now find out is Sven) retreats to the front room after dinner and the sisters go to work washing the dishes, Carrie presses Minnie about the theater again. She even boldly suggests they go tonight. Minnie won't be persuaded though, and Carrie picks up on the fact that her hesitation is about the money so Carrie offers to pay. Carrie pleads with Minnie to ask Hanson.
  • Uh-oh—Carrie's insistence on going to the theater throws up a red flag for Minnie. If she's so ready to waste her money, Minnie and Mr. Hanson are probably never going to see a dime of the board money they all agreed Carrie would pay them when she found a job.
  • But, lo and behold, Minnie asks Hanson (albeit half-heartedly) if they can all go to the theater.
  • She fails to convince him and Carrie announces she's going to stand "at the foot of the stairs" of the apartment building. When she leaves, Mr. Hanson tells Minnie that Carrie shouldn't be wasting money on theater tickets.
  • The next night, Carrie goes walking through town by herself to escape the dreariness of Minnie's flat. She looks longingly at all the fancy houses, and her thoughts wander to Drouet. She wonders where he is and now hopes just a little bit that he'll come by on Monday night to liven things up.
  • Carrie awakes Monday morning, nervous and excited about her first day on the job, but when she gets to the shoe company, Mr. Brown (the guy who hired her) approaches her like he's never seen her before (so much for a warm welcome). She tells him her name and he leads her through a room of machines, handing her off to the foreman who turns her over to a girl working at a machine.
  • The girl is instructed to train Carrie to work at a machine that punches shoelace holes in leather.
  • The narrator describes the assembly line set-up: "The pieces of leather came from the girl at the machine to her right, and were passed on to the girl at her left. Carrie saw at once that an average speed was necessary or the work would pile up on her and all those below would be delayed" (4.72).
  • Carrie gets to work, but she's having trouble keeping up with the fast-paced environment and she gets scolded. The room is stinking hot as the morning wears on and Carrie's back starts aching. The girl next to her tells her she can stand up so she does, but she still can't get quite comfortable. Above the racket of the machines, she listens to the other girls's gossip about guys.
  • When the lunch bell finally rings, Carrie drags her weary self into the lunch space. The working conditions in the factory are horrid, with foul smells, littered floors, and no places for employees to take breaks. The narrator reminds us, though, that the novel is set ten years in the past (1889), before the real heyday of labor unions demanding better conditions for workers.
  • And then it's high school all over again: Carrie is the new girl who has to find people to sit with in the lunchroom. She just doesn't have the guts to break into any of the cliques so the poor girl ends up going back to her machine to eat alone. As she eats, she listens to teasing flirtations going on between male workers and some of the women and feels a bit turned off by it all.
  • After the lunchtime trauma, Carrie is actually glad to get back to work… that is, until she gets poked in the ribs by a smart aleck boy which makes her feel like crying. The girl next to her tries to comfort her, but Carrie can't help feeling like she's not going to last long at this place. The hours crawl by, until finally 6:00PM comes and she leaves (but not before enduring some more unwanted male attention).