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McTeague as a social commentary

Uploaded by ginNcolke on May 01, 2001

Written in 1899, Frank Norris’ novel, McTeague serves as a view of societal factions of his time period. Norris illustrates the stratification of society in this San Francisco community by using the concept of Social Darwinism. He gives detailed accounts of the inner workings of society along with the emotions of the time. Through his characters, Norris shows the separation of classes and the greed that grew abundantly during the late 19th century. He also gives a grim picture of survival in his depiction of the theory of natural selection.

In the first chapter, Norris paints a picture of a town setting. He describes Polk Street as

“one of those cross streets peculiar to Western cities, situated in the heart of the residence quarter, but occupied by small trades people who lived in the rooms above their shops. There were corner drug stores with huge jars of red, yellow and green liquids in their windows, very brave and gay; stationers’ stores, where illustrated weeklies were tacked upon bulletin boards; barber shops with cigar stands in their vestibules; sad-looking plumbers; offices; cheap restaurants, in whose windows one saw piles of unopened oysters weighted down by cubes of ice, and china pigs and cows knee deep in layers of white beans.”

In this paragraph, the reader gets a visual image of a town during the 19th century. Cozy, quaint and rather poor, this town exists as an example of any other town at this time. Also, in setting the activities of the time period, Norris describes the morning ritual on Polk Street to display the stratification of the classes. He writes:

“ The laborers went trudging past in a straggling file- plumber’s apprentices, their pockets stuffed with sections of lead pipe, tweezers, and pliers; carpenters, carrying nothing but their little pasteboard lunch baskets painted to imitate leather; gangs of street workers, their overalls soiled with yellow clay, their picks and long-handled shovels over their shoulders…A little later following in the path of the day laborers came the clerks and shop girls, dressed with a certain cheap smartness… towards eleven o’clock the ladies from the great avenue a block above Polk Street made their appearance, promenading the sidewalks leisurely, deliberately…”

Here the reader can see plain as day the separation of the classes of this time period. These people are separated by their occupation, which also determines their activity on Polk Street. In noticing this activity, one can...

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Uploaded by:   ginNcolke

Date:   05/01/2001

Category:   Literature

Length:   4 pages (802 words)

Views:   1866

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