A Burden of Duty

To anyone who has had to sit through a conversation with me that started “I’m reading this book that takes place in turn-of-the-century Chicago…” the nightmare is over. I finally finished Sister Carrie and I will probably do less talking about it.

I have never been especially patient when it comes to books and typically will move on to something else if I can’t make good progress in a decent amount of time, so the fact that I made it through Sister Carrie is a point of pride. I think I started it in October, and, while I’ve read other books in the meantime, I’ve diligently come back to it over the last 8 months until finally finishing it this week.

There were many fascinating aspects of it that I can, will, and have discussed with pretty much anyone who will listen. Sometimes, though, I come across writing that blows me away because it is timeless and its message universal. That’s what I found at the end of this book. The main character, Carrie, begins the book as an 18-year-old fresh from the countryside and traveling to Chicago to start a new life. Over the course of the next 10-15 years (this is what I gather from the various points of time lapse in the book), she ascends through the ranks of society as a mistress and later on, an actress (at that point living in New York City). Some of her view and opinion of the world are based in her relationships with the men in her life. First Drouet, then Hurstwood, and finally, Ames.

We see Ames least of all in this book, and it is unclear if he ever even engages in a relationship with Carrie. Yet it is he who provides Carrie, and indeed, the reader, with the most incisive guidance and opinion of the world. This was my favorite part of the whole book:


“That puts a burden of duty on you. It so happens that you have this thing. It is no credit to you – that is, I mean, you might not have had it. You paid nothing to get it. But now that you have it, you must do something with it.”

You must do something with it.

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