Below you will find four outstanding thesis statements for “Sister Carrie” by Theodore Dreiser that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in the text and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “Sister Carrie” by Dreiser in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “Sister Carrie” at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay. Before you begin, however, please get some useful tips and hints about how to use PaperStarter.com in the brief User’s Guide…you’ll be glad you did.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Realism or Naturalism?
In terms of genre and historical classification, Theodore Dreiser’s novel, Sister Carrie crosses the borders between realism and naturalism (click here for full analysis of this topic). While there are a number of literary and author-related reasons why this might be the case (which is another essay topic altogether) Sister Carrie is far more of a naturalist as opposed to realist text because it uses many of the pertinent ideas and practices of realism (especially in terms of character and other descriptions) yet focuses on character as the product of a particular environment. While you can write an argumentative essay on “Sister Carrie" from either the realist or naturalist standpoint, be careful to remember this point about the influence of the urban environment on character. If you stick with the thesis statement that this is an example of naturalism, look at the way Carrie’s character changes simply as a result of a physical/geographic change (remember that an urban setting is a key feature of naturalism) and how the world around her creates who she ultimately becomes. As a side note, most scholars will agree that this is a naturalist text so if you need to back up your opinions with research, it will be far easier with this topic as opposed to realism. (Here is a link to an article on this topic)
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: The Superficiality of Consumer Culture
So much of this novel focuses on the shallow and superficial needs of characters, major and minor, to constantly acquire more material goods and as a result, a higher representation of class. In fact, it can be easily argued that materialism, capitalism, and consumerism are the main driving forces behind the action in the novel. For example, Carrie’s fascination with Chicago is not the opportunity to be close to her sister or to appreciate the arts, it is to have the opportunity to buy things. Her desire for material goods and the status that these things represent is the reason for her choice of all the men in her life (with the exception of Ames, who when Carrie interacts with she changes significantly and has deeper, less materialistic ambitions) and in terms of all the characters, is the driving force of the action. For this argumentative essay, pick one of the three related topics (materialism, capitalism, consumerism) and discuss how they are not only major themes in “Sister Carrie", but are the driving force behind character development, action, and overall meaning.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Narrator as Social Commentator
Unlike many other more traditional novels, particularly from a slightly earlier period, the narrator of “Sister Carrie" is not one to be ignored or perceived simply as the “teller" of the tale. In Sister Carrie, the narrator plays an important role in helping readers understanding the complexities (and innate shallowness, in many cases) of the characters. Instead of making many small statements about individual characters and their actions or mere thoughts, this narrator makes bold, sweeping statements about the culture of the novel, about the society in “Sister Carrie”, and about life in general. This is a very active and engaging narrator—one who is prone to editorializing rather than simply relating information. For this essay, examine the role of the narrator by looking for key passages during which he (or she, for that matter) succinctly brings together the main ideas of the novel in broad statements about the society he witnesses. This might make a good comparison or compare/contrast essay with another novel of this time period in which the narrator is the “silent" teller of the tale. For this essay, you would look at the ways and differences in which the themes are relayed.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: The Development of Carrie
When Carrie first comes to Chicago, she is a wide-eyed innocent and has little understanding of the urban landscape she encounters. Enthralled by it, she plunges headfirst into this exciting new culture and finds herself in many situations, most of them negative. Throughout all the events of the novel, one might expect that she has learned something deeper than the lessons taught by her series of life events but by the end of Sister Carrie, it can be easily argued that Carrie has not grown—only had experiences. For this argumentative essay on Sister Carrie, use the last quarter or so of the book to make the claim that Carrie, although more enriched in terms of her experiences in life, is not a significantly changed character. For this character analysis essay, consider the ways her wisdom on more practical matters has grown (especially in terms of her understanding of men) while her fundamental nature has not. In your conclusion to essay, speculate on what this shallowness of character suggests, not only about Carrie herself, but about the society presented in the novel.
•If you’re still looking for ideas, be sure to check out this great article on Naturalism and Realism in “Sister Carrie” •
This list of important quotations from “Sister Carrie” by Theodore Dreiser will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from Sister Carrie listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text they are referring to.
“We see man far removed from the lairs of the jungles, his innate instincts dulled by too near an approach to freewill, his freewill not sufficiently developed to replace his instincts and afford him perfect guidance. He is becoming too wise to hearken always to instincts and desires; he is still too weak to always prevail against them" (61).
“A man’s fortune or material progress is very much the same as his bodily growth. Either he is growing stronger, healthier, wiser, as the youth approaching manhood, or he is growing weaker, older, les incisive mentally, as the man approaching old age. There are no other states" (259).
“Men and women hurried by in long, shifting lines. She felt the flow of the tide of effort and interest—felt her own helplessness without quite realizing the wisp on the tide she was" (21).
“Whatever a man like Hurstwood had been in Chicago, it is very evident that he would be but an inconspicuous drop in an ocean like New York. In Chicago, whose population still ranged about 500,000, millionaires were not numerous" (232).
“In the view of a certain stratum of society of society, Carrie was comfortably established—in the eyes of a starveling, beaten by every wind and gusty sheet of rain she was safe in a halcyon harbor" (74).
“Carrie passed along the busy aisles, much affected by the remarkable displays of trinkets, dress goods, stationery, and jewelry. Each separate counter was a show place of dazzling interest and attraction. She could not help feeling the claim of each trinket personally, and yet she did not stop" (18).
“Minnie was no companion for her sister—she was too old. Her thoughts were staid and solemnly adapted to a condition" (41).
“A man’s fortune or material progress is very much the same as his bodily growth" (259).
“She did not grow in knowledge so much as she awakened in the matter of desire" (92).
Reference: Dreiser, Theodore. Sister Carrie. New York: Hard Press, 2006.