The main character of the story is young and naive girl named Caroline Meeber or Carrie. When she turns eighteen, Carrie decides to leave her home and start the life of her own. She boards a train to Chicago, not sure where to go and what to do next. She is going to stay at her sister’s house and that’s all her plan. Her trainmate who sits near her stars the small talk. His name is Drouet and soon Carrie is interested in him because of his manners, fashionable and expensive clothes and eloquent speech. When the train finally arrives to Chicago, Carrie cheerfully says goodbye to him, also giving Drouet the address of her sister, just in case.
Carrie comes to Minnie Hanson, her older and already married sister. Minnie allows her to live in one room of her spacious apartment. Mr. Hanson, her husband, comes home late after work, but isn’t very hospitable to Carrie. Soon the girl understands that he isn’t fond of the idea of letting her stay with them for free: Mr. Hanson wants Carrie to find a job as soon as possible and pay rent. So, she isn’t a guest, but a source of income. Saddened by this discovery Carrie starts searching for a job right after the weekend is over. Shy and reserved, Carrie is afraid to ask for a job and insist on listening to her. Her hesitation result in a wasted day: she doesn’t find anything at all. But Carrie tries again and again and finally, after several days of struggling, manages to get employed in the shoe factory. She works hard and thoroughly, but Carrie is still a naive girl who doesn’t know the city prices and average wages, so, when she realises that her salary is too low to both pay rent and buy her warm clothes for winter, it’s too late. Carrie continues to wear summer clothes and soon she catches a flu and falls ill. Knowing that there are no sick leaves on her job and she was most probably fired already, Carrie again goes to the streets of the city, asking for the new job. Still, there are no places to work, even as miserable as her previous one.
Sad and frozen Carrie is about to return home, but suddenly she sees a familiar face on the street. It is Drouet. He invites her for a meal to a fancy restaurant Carrie couldn’t afford for herself. Charmed by his manners, Carrie can’t resist him and finally agrees to see him next evening. When the date is over, Drouet gives her twenty dollars. Carrie is too desperate, hungry and shy to refuse, but when returning home she thinks that something is wrong with such a way of receiving the money. She feels disgusted of herself and also afraid that her sister will think that Carrie now works as a prostitute. Finally, she makes a decision to return the money back to Drouet during the next day and save her dignity. But when she comes to see him, Drouet takes her out shopping instead of another date in the restaurant, and buys Carrie the whole wardrobe, worth much, much more than twenty dollars.
Carrie feels like Cinderella from a fairy-tale. She is so charmed that she almost doesn’t resist his offer to rent her a flat, not even thinking about the possible consequences of such trust to the stranger. When the flat is rented, Carrie secretly takes her things out of her sister’s apartment and leaves a note that she moves - Carrie is still afraid to tell Minnie the truth. She and Drouet start a relationship and quite a happy one.
Drouet introduces Carrie to his friends. Among them there is a man named Hurstwood, he is the manager of one of the fanciest bars in all the Chicago. Drouet looks elegant and fashionable, but Hurstwood’s manners are far more refined. The three of them enjoy the company of each other playing cards and going to the theater together. But when Drouet goes away for a business trip, Hurstwood starts to actively show Carrie his affection. Carrie doesn’t return his feelings at the beginning, but soon Hurstwood manages to kiss her while the woman is full of excitement on the buggy ride.
Oblivious to it, Drouet calmly continues his trip, returning back to Chicago for a few weeks. Suddenly, some influential people ask him if he can find a young actress willing to perform in the Mason’s lodge he belongs to. Drouet comes to Carrie and ask if she wants to try herself as an actress. The girl happily agrees. Hurstwood, learning that Carrie will have her first play on the stage, advertises the play to all the wealthy and powerful people of Chicago. Drouet hepls Carrie with her first role and when the play finally begins, she appears to be a brilliant actress capable of stunning performance. Drouet is insanely happy to see his protege shining, but Hurstwood can’t stand seeing the couple together anymore.
Meanwhile, we learn that Hurstwood is married. But now, after he fell for Carrie, his family life is endangered. He ignores his wife and neglects her just to spend more time with Carrie. The poor woman tries her best to save their relationship, but when she realises that it is an affair, she decides that everything is over and demands money from Hurstwood to have her own life. But their couple isn’t the only one having hard times. Drouet also grows suspicious, seeing that Carrie is willing to spend with Hurstwood every single instance of her free time. He feels offended and argues with Carrie, while Hurstwood, having forgotten that all their property belongs to his wife, rudely refuses to let her go. Finally she starts the process of divorce, the detective hired by her proved the fact of affair and Hurstwood ends up kicked from his - or now her - house.
Enraged, Hurstwood now lives at his working place, renting the hotel suite nearby to sleep. Once, at the end of his shift, he is locking the bar, while he suddenly notices that the safe is left opened by the owner. Worried that someone could rob the bar, Hurstwood takes the money from it to count - around ten thousand dollars - but accidentally slams the safe door shut, so that he can’t open it again. A crazy idea hits his head and Hurstwood grabs the cash and rushes to Carrie. He appears worried and tells her the lie that Drouet was badly injured in a car accident and they have to go to the hospital immediately. Horrified, Carrie goes with him without any suspicions, but it appears that the train they boarded doesn’t go to the Hospital. Hurstwood abducts Carrie and goes with her to Detroit and then to Montreal to cover his tracks. Carrie is enraged and sad, but she doesn’t have the spine to run away or actually do something else.
They stay in Montreal for a while, spending the stolen money and then move to New York City. Hurstwood rents a flat and finally - when his head clears a bit - sends back the major part of the money, leaving for himself a little bit more than a thousand to settle down in the new place and start a small business. He searches for a bar he can buy and soon finds one suitable for his plan. He becomes a business partner of the current owner and the business is going fine for some time. But then the landowner decides to sell his land to the building company, so the bar is completely destroyed and an office building is built there instead. Hurstwood has nothing left and, despite his desperate search, can’t find a new job. Soon the money he saved are over and he has to take Carrie to the other, much more modest and smaller flat. Despair gradually consumes Hurstwood: unable to find the job he doesn’t try to lower his standards and try a working profession as Carrie did before. He just stops trying, spending his time in idleness, gambling and drinking. After the one night of the particularly risky gambling he loses all the money they still have. This is the last straw for Carrie. Completely disillusioned, with any romantic interest in Hurstwood lost, she starts to search for the job herself. Carrie still struggles and fights for survival, while Hurstwood, having reached the bottom of depression, refuses even to step away from the flat, just sitting there and doing nothing.
This time Carrie doesn’t try to get employed to the factory. Remembering her experience and success as an actress, she tries herself in theatres and soon is hired as a chorus performer of a Broadway show. Her salary is only slightly higher than that von the shoe factory, but it is still better than nothing. Soon Carrie notices that caring for Hurstwood consumes the major part of her money. So, when she is promoted at first to the leader of chorus line and than to a dancer, she hides her success from him, understanding that he will demand even more money she needs herself to prepare for the new life.
Finally, Hurstwood puts himself together enough to try again. When he hears that the trolley workers are striking, he uses this chance to get their job, becoming a scab - a strikebreaker, the man who works when the rest are striked, hated by everyone. The natural response comes soon and Hurstwood is almost caught by the angry mob: the strikers catch him, stop his car and repeatedly shoot at him. Hurstwood manages to escape, but he understands that a crappy job isn’t worth losing a life. He returns home and makes no attempt to get hired anymore. In the meantime, Carrie gets her first speaking role in the show. Her detestment towards Hurstwood grows so much that he decides to leave him immediately and live with the other actresses she befriended in dormitory. As shy as before, Carrie leaves him as quietly as she left her sister before, just without a note - while Hurstwood was taking one of his first walk after the depression episode.
Carrie becomes more and more successful actress, while Hurstwood, left without his only source of income and scarce emotional support, falls deeper and deeper. Without money he has to leave his apartment soon and joins the army of homeless beggars of New York City. Sometimes he begs enough to rent a cheap hotel room to wash and sleep in bed, but sometimes he has to spend nights on the street. In the meantime Carrie gets the leading silent role, playing it so extraordinary that she becomes a rising star of the show with her face on all the posters and a contract with an incredible sum for her - a hundred and fifty dollars a week.
All this time Drouet, who hasn’t forgotten her, was searching Carrie all over the United States. Finally he reaches New York City and sees Carrie as a star of the Broadway. He tries to start everything anew, but Carrie isn’t interested in the relationship with him anymore, so she refuses and makes it clear that the breakup is final. Hurstwood, unable to bear such a miserable life, kills himself, suffocating with methane in one of the cheap hotel suites. His wife and daughter are shown as perfectly happy at this time. While Hurstwood’s body departs on a ship, they head to Rome for a vacation with a charming young man Hurstwood’s daughter recently married. Carrie is now wealthy and famous, but still unhappy. She feels that her comedic roles aren’t serious enough and wants to play drama in real theater, but isn’t sure if she is talented enough to try.