America, 1889 Eighteen-year-old Carolina Mieber, or, as she was affectionately called home, Sister Kerry, leaves the hometown of Columbia City and travels by train to Chicago, where her married older sister lives. In the wallet, Kerry has only four dollars and her sister’s address, but she is inspired by the hope for a new happy life in a big and beautiful city.
At first, however, she expects disappointment. The sister is burdened with family and au pair, her husband works as a cleaner for wagons in a slaughterhouse and earns very little, and therefore every extra waste makes serious gaps in their meager budget. Kerry goes in search of work, but she does not know how to do anything, and the best thing she can find is the place of a worker at a shoe factory. Monotonous, poorly paid work is very hard for the girl, but, getting sick, she is deprived of this earnings. Not wishing to be a burden to her sister and her husband, she is already going to return home, but then accidentally meets a young traveling salesman Charles Drouet, whom she met on the train on her way to Chicago.
Drouet is genuinely ready to help Carrie, persuades him to borrow money from him, then rented an apartment for her. Kerry takes courtship Drouet, although no serious feelings for him do not feel. However, she is ready to marry him, but it is worth it to start a conversation about this, Drouet embarks on various excuses, assuring him that he will certainly marry her, but first he must settle formalities with obtaining some inheritance.
It is Drouet who introduces Kerry to George Hurstwood, who runs the very prestigious bar “My and Fitzgerald.” At the price of great diligence and perseverance, Hurstwood for many years of work managed to get up from the bartender in the third-rate saloon to the bar manager, where the most respectable public was gathering. He has his own house and a solid bank account, but there is no warmth of family relations. Elegant, with irreproachable manners, Hurstwood makes a strong impression on Kerry, and Hurstwood, in turn, shows interest in a pretty young provincial woman, especially as his relationship with his wife is deteriorating noticeably.
At first, Hurstwood and Kerry meet in Drouet society, then secretly from him. Hurstwood suggests that Kerry move to another place, so that no one interferes with their relationship, but Kerry is ready to do this only if he marries her. Meanwhile, Drouet recommends her to play the main role in the amateur theatrical performance. The lack of scenic experience, of course, makes itself felt, nevertheless the debut is quite successful.
In the meantime, both Drouet and Hurstwood’s wife are growing suspicions. The situation of Hurstwood is complicated by the fact that he wrote down all his property in the name of his wife, and now she intends to leave it penniless on the most legal grounds. Caught in an extremely difficult situation, Hurstwood decides on a desperate act.
Taking advantage of the fact that the owners fully trust him, he steals from the cashier’s bar more than ten thousand dollars and takes Kerry away.
First he tells her that Drouet has had a misfortune and needs to go to his hospital, and only on the train he explains to Kerry the meaning of his deed. He assures her that he finally broke up with his wife that he would soon get a divorce and that if Kerry agrees to leave with him, he will never think about leaving her. He, however, is silent about the fact that he misappropriated other people’s money.
However, his deception quickly surfaced, and in Montreal, where Hurstwood and Kerry married as Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler, he was already waiting for a private investigator hired by the owners of the bar. Returning most of the stolen, Hurstwood gets the opportunity to return unhindered to the United States. He and Kerry are settling in New York.
There he manages to invest the remaining money in a bar, and for a while life comes to normal. Kerry has time to make friends with the neighbor Mrs. Vance, visits theaters and restaurants with her and her husband, meets... the inventor Bob Ems, cousin of Mrs. Vance. Ems was interested in Kerry, but he is not Lovelace, respects marriage, and has no acquaintance. Then the young engineer returns to his native state of Indiana, but on Kerry he made a deep impression: “Now Kerry had an ideal, with him she compared all the other men, especially those who were close to her.”
So three years pass. Then clouds gather over Hurstwood again. The house in which his bar was located is transferred to another owner, restructuring is planned, and his partner breaks his contract with him. He starts frantically searching for a job, but he has not got years anymore, he has not acquired any useful skills, and he has to listen to refusals again and again. From time to time he meets old acquaintances at the bar “My and Fitzgerald”, but can not make use of former ties. He and Kerry change their apartment, they save on everything, but there is less and less money. To fix things, Hurstwood tries to use the former skill to play poker, but, as usually happens in such situations, he loses the latter.
Realizing that hopes for Hurstwood are now illusory, Kerry is trying to find work. Recalling her success in an amateur drama, she tries to get on the stage, and eventually she is lucky: she becomes an actress in the corps de ballet in an operetta. Gradually, she gets out of the statistics in soloists.
Meanwhile, Hurstwood, exhausted by constant refusals when looking for work, is being decided on a desperate step. When Brooklyn streetcar workers strike, Hurstwood is hired by a tractor driver. But the bread of the strikebreaker is very bitter. Hurstwood has to listen to insults, threats, he sorts the rubble on the rails. Then they shoot at him. The wound is trivial, but the end of Hurstwood’s patience. So not having completed the shift, he throws a tram and somehow gets to the house.
After receiving another promotion, Kerry leaves Hurstwood. At parting she leaves him twenty dollars and a note where she says that she has neither the strength nor the desire to work for two.
Now they seem to move in opposite directions. Kerry is becoming a favorite of the public, reviewers are supportive of her, her fans are getting her societies, The administration of a chic hotel for advertising purposes invites a new celebrity to settle with them for a nominal fee. Hurstwood is in poverty, spending the night in doss houses, standing in lines for free soup and bread. Once the hotel manager, having pity on him, gives him a place – he does the black work, gets a pittance, but he’s happy about it. However, the body does not stand up, falling ill with pneumonia and lying in the hospital, Hurstwood again joins the army of New York homeless, content, if you can get a few cents for the night. Hurstwood no longer avoids begging and sometimes asks for charity under the lights of advertising reporting the performance with the participation of his ex-wife.
Kerry again meets with Drouet, who does not mind renewing their connection, but for Kerry he is already uninteresting. Comes to New York Ems. Having achieved success in his West, he intends to open a laboratory in New York. After watching another operetta with Kerry’s participation, he inspires her that it’s time to do something more serious, we should try ourselves in the drama, because, in his opinion, she is capable of something more than the template roles that she gets.
Kerry agrees with his opinion, but does not attempt to change his destiny. She generally falls into anguish and apathy. Drouet left her life, apparently forever. There was also no Hurstwood, although Kerry does not know about it. Unable to withstand the blows of fate, he committed suicide by poisoning himself with gas in a New York doss house. However, “return even to Hurstwood in his former beauty and glory, he would not have seduced Kerry any more, she learned that both his world and its present position do not give happiness.” Outwardly, her deeds go well, she does not need anything, but again and again her victories seem illusory to her, and real life inexplicably eludes.