First Advisor

Susan Danielson

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in English






Theodore Dreiser 1871-1945. Sister Carrie, Prostitutes in literature



Physical Description

1 online resource (88 p.)


Prostitutes have played a significant role in society and literature for many centuries, both as subjects of irresistible desire and repentant shame. Although prostitution plays a role in patriarchy, female prostitutes have often defied the conventions of patriarchal society by supporting themselves outside marriage, outside the reign of religious conviction and, more recently, by seeking to continue their professional work with legal sanction. Other groups of women, such as those active in civic reform interests, have yearned for the reformation of prostitute behaviors, powerfully countering the cry from those who support prostitution and call for their legal right to pursue their profession. As a literary theme, prostitution makes a remarkably consistent showing throughout time, but it was not until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that the prostitute as a character was portrayed in such a way as to allow prevailing assumptions to disperse. This study discusses the representations of prostitutes in two novels by American authors, Stephen Crane and Theodore Dreiser, as read through the lens of social science literature existing during the authors' lives. The social science literature noted here spans most of the nineteenth century and was known to maintain a high degree of influence over social scientists of the time. The novels cover a period stretching from 1893 (with the first publication of Maggie) to 1907 (with the second publication of Sister Carrie). This study explores how each author's portrayal of the prostitute character corresponds with the stereotypical assumptions of the day and how the representations differ from those stereotypes. The study also examines portraits taken of the Storyville Prostitutes by a commercial photographer in New Orleans, E. J. Bellocq, in order to exemplify the visual aspects and constructions of prostitution. Due in part to the principles of scientific determinism that influenced writers like Crane and Dreiser, the prostitute was observed and portrayed through a lens presumed to filter out subjective convictions which had so long colored the prostitute in a reddish light. By analyzing three forms of representation--the photograph, the sociological report, and the novel--my thesis shows that accepted ideologies were beginning to change with respect to the ways people viewed prostitutes.


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