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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Framing the City: Windows, Newspapers and the Illusion of Reality in Theodore Dreiser's "Sister Carrie"


Through the lenses of urban planning, consumerism, and print and visual culture, this paper explores Theodore Dreiser’s unsettled vision of the fin de siècle American metropolis as expressed in Sister Carrie (1900). The novel’s troubling discrepancy between the appearance and true nature of things calls into question the apparent success achieved by the title character and envisioned by others. To tease out the implications of this discrepancy, it is important to consider the novel’s representations of windows and newspapers—the media of modern perception through which the novel’s protagonists, Carrie Meeber and G.W. Hurstwood, view the city. Acts of window-gazing and newspaper-reading trigger idealized images of life that challenge each character to transform his or her fantasy into reality. Yet, whether in the workplace, the home, or the streets, successfully bridging the two ultimately remains illusory.

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