Date of Award

Spring 3-31-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Classical Studies

Thesis Advisor

Dr. Alisa M. DeBorde

Committee Professor

Dr. Melissa M. Hatcher


Theodore Dreiser is generally considered one of the greatest American naturalist authors across the genre. His depiction of life is gritty and harsh, his characters at the mercy of their natural impulses and their unforgiving environment. However, there is also a sentimental element to Dreiser’s work, especially in his portrayal of romantic relationships. In the face of unrelenting adversity, there is a glimmer of possibility in the longing for meaningful human connection, if only under different circumstances. While Dreiser’s naturalistic approach suggests that such relationships can never be truly fulfilling due to either the innate frailty of the participants or the outside forces acting upon them, he does not discount the value of love and affection. This thesis analyzes Dreiser’s first novel, Sister Carrie, and the relationships among its three principal characters: Carrie Meeber, Charles Drouet, and George Hurstwood. Close attention is given to the female perspective, particularly what romantic relationship requires her to compromise or sacrifice. With respect to male desire and female imitation, heterosexual relationships are presented as transactional, the primary motivators of which are biological and socioeconomic, and are informed according to gender.