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Entries : Migrants to Chicago
Migrants to Chicago

Migrants to Chicago

Thea Kronborg was a rather incurious migrant to Chicago in Willa Cather's The Song of the Lark (1915):

During this first winter Thea got no city consciousness. Chicago was simply a wilderness through which one had to find one's way. She felt no interest in the general briskness and zest of the crowds. The crash and scramble of that big, rich, appetent Western city she did not take in at all, except to notice that the noise of the drays and street-cars tired her. The brilliant window displays, the splendid furs and stuffs, she scarcely noticed.

In contrast, the heroine of Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie (1900) is interested in Chicago from the moment she debarks a train from Wisconsin:

The entire metropolitan center possessed a high and mighty air calculated to overawe and abash the common applicant, and to make the gulf between poverty and success seem both wide and deep.

Into this important commercial region the timid Carrie now wended her way. She walked east along Van Buren Street through a region of lessening importance until it deteriorated into a mass of shanties and coalyards and finally verged upon the river. She walked bravely forward, led by an honest desire to find employment and delayed at every step by the interest of the unfolding scene, and a sense of helplessness amid so much evidence of power and force which she did not understand. These vast buildings, what were they? These strange energies and huge interests—for what purposes were they there?