Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Cosmopolitan Standards of Virtue

1900 New York: Sister Carrie's City
“When a girl leaves her home at eighteen, she does one of two things. Either she falls into saving hands and becomes better, or she rapidly assumes the cosmopolitan standard of virtue and becomes worse.” So wrote Theodore Dreiser in his 1900 novel, Sister Carrie. Carrie goes to the big city of Chicago, falls in with a salesman, Drouet, only to leave with another man, Hurstwood, and off the two go to the even bigger city, New York.  

Does she assume the “cosmopolitan standard of virtue”? She certainly does. And Dreiser uses the city as the backdrop for her simultaneous rise in fortune and decline in virtue.