At the turn of the twentieth century, Chicago’s residents were deeply concerned with understanding the city’s perceived chaos. For many Americans, Chicago stood for the best and the worst of urban life simultaneously, and many of the public conversations at this time can be seen as responses to this seeming contradiction. This essay compares Theodore Dreiser’s seminal naturalist novel Sister Carrie and the rhetoric of Chicago’s labor unions as examples of the American response to the problems of urban modernity. In many ways, Dreiser and organized labor’s depictions of the city were similar: they both saw it as a force growing beyond human control and they recognized the importance of class in navigating the city. However, Dreiser saw Chicago as a powerful entity beyond the comprehension of its residents, while labor leaders believed the city’s power was a construction of industrial capitalism. While Dreiser saw class identity as weakening individuals, labor saw it as a source of strength. Ultimately, both agreed that the problems of urban life would be resolved and Chicago would become a more perfect city.


Maclean, Robert

Second Advisor

Shaya, Greg


English; History


United States History

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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