American Novel – 205
2) b) comment on man and women relationship as depicted by dreiser in sister carrie
Sister Carrie marked both the apogee of Victorian prudery and, simultaneously, the beginning of the modern American novel, we must first briefly reconstruct the official nineteenth century attitude toward women and toward the sexual relationship between men and women. * William Dean Howells, in a book which is assuredly representative of the thought of its time, The Rise of Silas Lapham, expressed the best thing in a woman. . . .If my wife wasn't good enough to keep both of us straight, I don't know what would become of me." Most readers would have profoundly agreed with this utterance by the bookTs hero; indeed, Silas's good wife serves to quicken his conscience throughout most of the novel, and supplies much of the impetus for his moral regeneration. To turn to quite another source, and to focus more sharply on the sexual (which is what the word "moral" has mainly signified in our culture) ethic of the age, we find this statement in a highly reputable manual of sexual instruction which still, even though it was published in 1916, perfectly delineated the authorized Victorian attitude: "It may be added here, that an occasional girl goes wrong through temperamental shortcomings in herself. . . but the proportion of women who would willingly and deliberately sacrifice their virtue is vanishingly small as compared with the proportion of young men . . . . This is probably in part due to their training. . . .It is in part due to the instinctive and inherent purity of mind of the normal woman. " Or, as Eric John Dingwall has put it in The American Woman: "Ladies merely submitted to the dictates of the curious system of propagation apparently approved by God, while only females were degraded enough to enjoy it."
As familiar as these principles are to us, and as much as they continueto plague us, we sometimes fail to recognize in them and in the entire...