The author, Theodore Dreiser, presents his theme through the symbolic detail throughout the story. In this way the symbolic level of the narrative is laid directly over the events and circumstance of the simple story itself. The theme in way is hard to explain through this story because as I mentioned before the theme is presented throughout symbolism, which becomes very difficult to explain as the story goes on.
The original title of Sister carrie was to have been the Flesh and the Spirit. Throughout the story it reveals the kind of symbolic pattern Dreiser intends to chose in his mind. Carries desires for pleasure, which is represented by money and clothing, shows the forces of the "Flesh" working on Carrie. Her amazement and admiration, and her awareness of "of always striving to do something better" best represent the workings of the "spirit." Although carrie knows that she has a powerful valuation for material possessions, she also recognizes that she has an emotional wisdom that is quite beyond the extent of the friendly but arrogant Drouet.
What attracts Hurstwood to carry is her sympathetic, impressionable nature of life and of others.
Several chapter titles in the book discuss the body and spirit. In a view point the titles seem to provide a mythological or symbolic environment for the story. In chapter 20 and 21, "The Lure of the Spirit: The Flesh in Pursuit", this title is given to two chapters to discuss how Hurstwood becomes seriously influenced by carrie as an shallow but successively awakening seeker after the significance of life in the chapter. In chapter 28, "A Pilgrim, An Outlaw: The spirit Detained," discusses how Hurstwood virtually kidnaps carrie and decides to take her to Canada. Carrie being the "spirit" is once again influenced when she finally realizes that Hurstwood has failed and that she must depend only on herself. She finally realizes this around chapter 37 "The spirit Awakens: New Search for the Gate." Theodore Dreiser?s Theme was represented through symbolism in the story. The symbolism in the story is revealed by the separate and distinct worlds of sister carrie. In the story there was realistic world of the "reasonable" mind and the imagined world of the "emotional" world, which was described in the story as "The kingdom of greatness." In this world was where Hurstwood emerges as an ambassador to bring carrie back with him. This was when carrie ends up becoming a citizen, the reason being that the it never seemed to yield the rewards and the beauty it promised. So at the end it finished by one line, Life is a constant battle fought between the giant armies of frustration and desire.
In conclusion the theme seemed pretty difficult to define and understand, but once in part it was found the rest was just given throughout the story. The Spirit and the Flesh, would have been the most appropriate title for the story, but being that it was so well explained throughout the story, it seems as the book is fine as it is.