Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie follows the story of a young woman who becomes involved in illicit affairs with two different men as she pursues her dreams of success and fortune. With the financial decline of her second lover, Carrie rises to wealth and fame on the New York stage. In the work, Dreiser realistically portrays the social and economic factors of his society. It is for this quality of realism that the novel and its author have become so well known. .
One of the most convincing elements of Sister Carrie is the realism used in describing commerce and money. The industry and economy in Chicago at that time are a major element in the novel. Employment is also a large part of the plot as many of the character's actions reflect their career choices. Dreiser goes into great detail when describing such topics as employment, money, and industry in his novel. During Carrie's initial search for employment, every aspect of the job-hunting process is specifically covered. Also, instead of describing the setting of Chicago during that time period, Dreiser tells the complete background of commercial history of the city. Unlike most authors who describe the scenery of the location, Dreiser describes Chicago in terms of commercial resources, its population, its key industries, and its municipal improvements. He uses this description to set the theme of industry before Carrie even begins to look for employment. Likewise, Dreiser presents the novel's characters in strictly commercial terms. For example, Carrie's brother-in-law, Sven, is described by what he does for a living. Dreiser gives details not of what he looks like, but instead of what time he must get up in the morning to travel to his job. The only thoughts of Sven's that the reader knows of are his ambitions for making enough money to invest in real estate. Similarly, Carrie's feelings about her relationships, her home, or her life aren't mentioned.