"“This Disintegrating Force”:
In this essay, I argue that Theodore Dreiser’s 1900 novel Sister Carrie can be read as a narrative of African American migration to the Northern cities. Sister Carrie engages with social change at the turn of the century, of which the migration of African Americans and others to large urban centers was a significant part. The novel describes the social fall and ruin of the middle-class figure Hurstwood while it depicts Carrie as an ethnic Other becoming rich and famous. In numerous accounts of Carrie’s attitudes and behavior, there are striking similarities to stereotypes of African Americans, which were widely circulated through the era’s popular culture. Moreover, the way in which Carrie achieves fame as a Broadway actress echoes the success that a number of black performers were experiencing there for the first time. Through these resemblances, the turn-of-the-century reader could come to recognize an important subtext in Sister Carrie—the possibility of upward mobility for African Americans moving to places such as New York City or Chicago.