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Role Of Social Darwinism In Mcteague

Frank Norris, through the work of his novel McTeague, changed America in several ways. Norris was born in Chicago in 1870, during a naturalistic time period (The Literature Network). This novel was written with many themes that define naturalism, such as greed and lust. Social Darwinism, which can be defined as “survival of the fittest” also played a huge role in Norris’ making of this novel (schoolworkhelper). Using the themes of lust, sexual tragedy, and Social Darwinism, Frank Norris wrote one of the most controversial novels that our world has come about to this day in McTeague.

Frank Norris, a Midwestern-born man, did not encounter the west coast of the United States until 1890 when he attended the University of California at Berkeley. During his time at the University of California, he studied the teachings of Charles Darwin in depth, primarily his theory of evolution that has a “survival of the fittest” attitude, which has a major role in his novel McTeague (Britannica). He also studied Emile Zola and Edgar Allen Poe, authors who were known for their naturalistic writing styles.

Norris’ mother Gertrude was an actress, while his father Benjamin Norris was a wealthy jeweler and business man. However, his parents got a divorce in 1895 which caused financial issues for Frank, causing him to leave school (Online Literature). While living in California, Norris worked for the San Francisco Chronicle as a journalist waiting for his novels to be published. Norris was a strong-minded man who worked hard for all of his accomplishments, but tragically died at the age of 32 due to an appendix disorder (Online Literature).

Frank Norris was born during a naturalistic time period, a time period which was also dominated by Social Darwinism (The Literature Network). Naturalism and Darwinism blend together in such that they both say that the more superior in social status one is, the better off that person is. For example, if a person is born with a disability or deformation, the theory of naturalism believes that the person will never be able to be looked at in a different way because the only thing that matters is that the person has or once had that disability or deformation.

Similarly, Social Darwinism says that only the strongest suited will survive. However, “Darwin never applied his theories to human social behavior,” which caused many authors to abuse the actual science (The Literature Network). Along with Social Darwinism, many compared naturalism to a specialized version of realism, also a literary movement in the lifetime of Frank Norris (The Literature Network). Realism is essentially what it sounds like. It is “attention to detail, an effort to replicate a true nature of reality that novelists never used” (The Literature Network).

Norris grew up in the time period in which all three movements played a key role in the works of authors, including Frank Norris. McTeague is a naturalistic novel that tells a story based in San Francisco of how a man named McTeague falls in love with a woman named Trina, and how money tore apart their marriage. McTeague is introduced as a man of habit, who loved to spend his Sundays as “a period of relaxation and enjoyment” by drinking his steamed beer and taking naps. However, he quickly fell in love with Trina, who happened to also be loved by his once best friend, Marcus.

Trina changed McTeague as a person, ridding of his Sunday habits such as napping and drinking steamed beer, and replaced them with walks in the park, and drinking expensive beer. Trina wanted McTeague to be a man that he did not want to be, which ultimately caused separation in their marriage, and played a huge role into why both McTeague and Trina died. This goes back to Charles Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest, and how changing of one’s social status can lead to failure and death.

Along with the main characters of McTeague and Trina, Norris’ novel also speaks of other couples such as Maria Macapa, a Mexican woman, and Zerkow, a Jewish man. Norris has been viewed as a racist by many critics because of the poor way he portrays the relationship between Zerkow and Maria. A year after their marriage, Maria gave birth to a child, but when the child dies from an unknown cause, Norris states “Neither Zerkow nor Maria was much affected by either the birth or death of this little child. Maria was out of her head so much of the time that she could scarcely remember how it looked when alive” (Norris 135).

That alone shows how messed up in the head that both Maria and Zerkow were. The birth of a child, let alone the death of a child should bring some sort of emotion to the parent of the child, but this was not the case is Norris’ novel, which is why he was viewed as a racist to many people, especially to those of the Mexican race and practicing Jews. The novel McTeague has been criticized by many and still is to this day. An early critic by the name of Ernest Marchand once stated “we trust that Mr. Norris’ next plot will fall in more pleasant places, to be hoped that Mr.

Norris will find subjects worthy of his power, to be hoped that Mr. Norris will find subjects better worthy of his power” (Marchand). That is some strong criticism from Marchand, basically threatening Norris to make sure his next novel is not as gruesome as McTeague was. Another harsh quote from Marchand was “his manner was hard and cold. His book was a monotony of brutality from beginning to end; it was about the most unpleasant American story that anybody has ever ventured to write. ” It is very clear that Marchand hated Norris’ novel from all aspects, and was very unhappy with the novel.

Modern critic Donald Pizer, rather than bashing the novel like early critics did, thoroughly explains and gets into greater detail about the many themes seen throughout the novel. Pizer speaks of sexual tragedy of man and woman as a major theme throughout the novel, saying “In McTeague sex is that which comes to all men and women, disrupting their lives and placing them in relationships which the sanctity of marriage cannot prevent frim ending in chaos and destruction. ” This theme can be seen in multiple couples in the novel, including McTeague and Trina, “They kissed each other, grossly, full in the mouth” (50).

This symbolized Trina’s sexual proposal. Ultimately, the theme of sexual tragedy is just one of the many reasons why Frank Norris’s novel got criticized so heavily. Using the themes of lust, sexual tragedy, and Social Darwinism, Frank Norris wrote one of the most controversial novels that our world has come about to this day in McTeague. However, due to the lack of filter Norris had when writing his novel, the book was not recognized for good reasons. Frank Norris caused extraordinary controversy in the literary world, and will forever be known as the man who wrote the extraordinary novel, McTeague.

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