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PinkMonkey Digital Library-Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

Chapter XXX

Whatever a man like Hurstwood could be 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. The rich had not
become so conspicuously rich as to drown all moderate incomes
in obscurity. The attention of the inhabitants was not so distracted
by local celebrities in the dramatic, artistic, social, and religious
fields as to shut the well-positioned man from view. In Chicago
the two roads to distinction were politics and trade. In New York
the roads were any one of a half-hundred, and each had been
diligently pursued by hundreds, so that celebrities were numerous.
The sea was already full of whales. A common fish must needs
disappear wholly from view-re-main unseen. In other words,
Hurstwood was nothing.

There is a more subtle result of such a situation as this, which,
though not always taken into account, produces the tragedies of
the world. The great create an atmosphere which reacts badly
upon the small. This atmosphere is easily and quickly felt. Walk
among the magnificent residences, the splendid equipages, the
gilded shops, restaurants, resorts of all kinds; scent the flowers,
the silks, the wines; drink of the laughter springing from the soul
of luxurious content, of the

glances which gleam like light from defiant spears; feel the
quality of the smiles which cut like glistening swords and of
strides born of place, and you shall know of what is the
atmosphere of the high and mighty. Little use to argue that of such
is not the kingdom of greatness, but so long as the world is
attracted by this and the human heart views this as the one
desirable realm which it must attain, so long, to that heart, will
this remain the realm of greatness. So long, also, will the
atmosphere of this realm work its desperate results in the soul of
man. It is like a chemical reagent. One day of it, like one drop of
the other, will so affect and discolour the views, the aims, the
desire of the mind, that it will thereafter remain forever dyed. A
day of it to the untried mind is like opium to the untried body. A
craving is set up which, if gratified, shall eternally result in
dreams and death. Aye! dreams unfulfilled-gnawing, luring, idle
phantoms which beckon and lead, beckon and lead, until death
and dissolution dissolve their power and restore us blind to
nature’s heart.

A man of Hurstwood’s age and temperament is not subject to the
illusions and burning desires of youth, but neither has he the
strength of hope which gushes as a fountain in the heart of youth.
Such an atmosphere could not incite in him the cravings of a boy
of eighteen, but in so far as they were excited, the lack of hope
made them proportionately bitter. He could not fail to notice the
signs of affluence and luxury on every hand. He had been to New
York before and knew the resources of its folly. In part it was an
awesome place to him, for here gathered all that he most
respected on this earth-wealth, place, and fame. The majority of

celebrities with whom he had tipped glasses in his day as manager
hailed from this self-centred and populous spot. The most inviting
stories of pleasure and luxury had been told of places and
individuals here. He knew it to be true that unconsciously he was
brushing elbows with fortune the livelong day; that a hundred or
five hundred thousand gave no one the privilege of living more
than comfortably in so wealthy a place. Fashion and pomp
required more ample sums, so that the poor man was nowhere. All
this he realised, now quite sharply, as he faced the city, cut off
from his friends, despoiled of his modest fortune, and even his
name, and forced to begin the battle for place and comfort all over
again. He was not old, but he was not so dull but that he could feel
he soon would be. Of a sudden, then, this show of fine clothes,
place, and power took on peculiar significance. It was emphasised
by contrast with his own distressing state.

And it was distressing. He soon found that freedom from fear of
arrest was not the sine qua non of his existence. That danger
dissolved, the next necessity became the grievous thing. The
paltry sum of thirteen hundred and some odd dollars set against
the need of rent, clothing, food, and pleasure for years to come
was a spectacle little calculated to induce peace of mind in one
who had been accustomed to spend five times that sum in the
course of a year. He thought upon the subject rather actively the
first few days he was in New York, and decided that he must act
quickly. As a consequence, he consulted the business
opportunities advertised in the morning papers and began
investigations on his own account.
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PinkMonkey Digital Library-Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

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