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In the late 1890s, after bidding her Missouri family goodbye, pretty Carrie Meeber boards a Chicago-bound train and soon is chatting with Charles S. Drouet, a smooth-talking, traveling dry goods salesman. Despite her prediction that she will do well in the city, Carrie ends up working as a seamstress in a shoe factory, and living in squalid conditions with her sister Minnie and harsh brother-in-law Sven. One day, in an effort to please her demanding boss, Carrie rushes to finish a shoe and gets her hand caught in her sewing machine. Though the injury is minor, her boss sends her home, then replaces her. Unable to find another job, Carrie shows up at Charlie's dry goods office and begs for work. Instead, Charlie gives her ten dollars and invites her to dine with him at Fitzgerald's, a fancy restaurant. Carrie reluctantly accepts, but after Minnie chastises her for taking money from a strange man, she goes to Fitzgerald's, intending to return his ten dollars and break the date. After Carrie inadvertently walks into Fitzgerald's "men only" bar, manager George Hurstwood happily escorts her to the restaurant. Charlie then appears and talks Carrie into staying. During the meal, George sends some champagne to Carrie's table, and she begins to relax and enjoy herself. Afterward, Charlie insists that Carrie stay in his apartment, claiming he is leaving on a business trip that night. While packing his bag, Charlie attempts to seduce Carrie, but she does not respond. Sometime later, however, Carrie has moved in with the salesman but becomes upset when a neighbor girl refuses to speak to her because she and Charlie are unwed. Carrie demands that Charlie marry her and when he refuses, threatens to return to Minnie's. To change her mind, Charlie buys her a puppy and, while returning home with the dog, runs into George, whom he knows casually from the bar. Charlie invites George inside, and Carrie enjoys playing cards with the erudite manager. Before leaving, George offers Charlie and Carrie two theater tickets, but Charlie, who is going out of town, encourages George to take Carrie instead. Later, George, who is married to the socially ambitious, cold-hearted Julia, returns to see Carrie and suggests they go to the play together. Unaware that George is married, Carrie agrees, and after they spend several evenings together, George stops by Fitzgerald's, where the perceptive, older Fitzgerald warns him about straying. Fitzgerald then spies Carrie and assumes she is George's mistress. Before bidding her good night, George kisses Carrie and, the next day, sends a note, asking her to meet him. Despite Charlie's return, Carrie rushes to see George, who begs her to go away with him. Carrie eagerly consents, but when she later runs into Charlie at Fitzgerald's, he tells her about Julia. George, meanwhile, asks Julia for a divorce, but she refuses to grant one and enlists Fitzgerald in her cause. After George is confronted by an angry Carrie, he runs into a drunken Charlie, who announces he is marrying Carrie the next day. Stunned and distracted, George inadvertently removes an envelope of cash from Fitzgerald's safe, then impulsively decides to steal it. He tricks Carrie into accompanying him to the train station and, once on a New York-bound train, begs her forgiveness and assures her that he and Julia are divorcing. Later, in New York, the now-married George and Carrie are visited by Allen, a private detective hired by Fitzgerald. Although Allen allows George to return Fitzgerald's unspent cash without legal consequence, he warns George that his reputation has been ruined. Without confessing his crime, George then informs Carrie that he was compelled to give Allen all their money, and the understanding Carrie vows to stick by her husband. Despite Carrie's optimism, George cannot find a decent job, because word of his theft has spread among the city's restaurant owners. George's worries increase after Carrie reveals she is pregnant, and he must fight for a lowly dishwashing job. When Julia appears at their doorstep, needing George's signature to sell their Chicago house, Carrie finally learns that George never obtained a divorce. Although Julia agrees to divorce George in exchange for his half of the sale proceeds, Carrie is devastated. Later she has a miscarriage and increases George's feelings of guilt with her bitterness. After recuperating, Carrie gets work as a chorine in a Broadway show. George, meanwhile, learns that his son, George, Jr., has married and will be in New York briefly with his socialite bride. Carrie urges George to reunite with his son, but George cannot go through with the meeting and leaves without making his presence known. When he returns home, he finds that Carrie, who feared that George, Jr. would resent her presence, has moved out. Carrie's acting career takes off, and after becoming a star, she is visited by Charlie, who reveals the truth about George's theft. Convinced that she was the cause of George's ruin, Carrie searches for him, to no avail. One night, George, who has become a bum, sees Carrie's photo on a theater poster and waits outside the stage door for her. Relieved, Carrie vows to "make it up" to George and declares they will be together again. After advising Carrie not to live in the past, George, ill and dazed, accepts a quarter from her and quietly departs.