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PinkMonkey Digital Library-Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

In the central portion was the vast wholesale and shopping
district, to which the uninformed seeker for work usually drifted.
It was a characteristic of Chicago then, and one not generally
shared by other cities, that individual firms of any pretension
occupied individual buildings. The presence of ample ground
made this possible. It gave an imposing appearance to most of the
wholesale houses, whose offices were upon the ground floor and
in plain view of the street. The large plates of window glass, now
so common, were then rapidly coming into use, and gave to the
ground floor offices a distinguished and prosperous look. The
casual wanderer could see as he passed a polished array of office
fixtures, much frosted glass, clerks hard at work, and genteel
business men in "nobby" suits and clean linen lounging about or
sitting in groups. Polished brass or nickel signs at the square stone
entrances announced the firm and the nature of the business in
rather neat and reserved terms. The entire metropolitan centre
possessed a high and mighty air calculated to overawe and abash
the common applicant, and to make the gulf between poverty and
success seem both wide and deep.

Into this important commercial region the timid Carrie went. She
walked east along Van Buren Street through a region of lessening
importance, until it deteriorated into a mass of shanties and coal-
yards, and finally verged upon the river. She walked bravely
forward, led by an honest desire to find employment and delayed
at every step by the interest of the unfolding scene, and a sense of

ness amid so much evidence of power and force which she did not
understand. These vast buildings, what were they? These strange
energies and huge interests, for what purposes were they there?
She could have understood the meaning of a little stone-cutter’s
yard at Columbia City, carving little pieces of marble for
individual use, but when the yards of some huge stone corporation
came into view, filled with spur tracks and flat cars, transpierced
by docks from the river and traversed overhead by immense
trundling cranes of wood and steel, it lost all significance in her
little world.

It was so with the vast railroad yards, with the crowded array of
vessels she saw at the river, and the huge factories over the way,
lining the water’s edge. Through the open windows she could see
the figures of men and women in working aprons, moving busily
about. The great streets were wall-lined mysteries to her; the vast
offices, strange mazes which concerned far-off individuals of
importance. She could only think of people connected with them
as counting money, dressing magnificently, and riding in
carriages. What they dealt in, how they laboured, to what end it all
came, she had only the vaguest conception. It was all wonderful,
all vast, all far removed, and she sank in spirit inwardly and
fluttered feebly at the heart as she thought of entering any one of
these mighty concerns and asking for something to do-something
that she could do-anything.
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PinkMonkey Digital Library-Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

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