Monday, November 8, 2010

Norris, McTeague, Day#1

--This is an image from Erich von Stroheim's early Hollywood silent film version of McTeague, entitled "Greed." I'll include images from it for all of the class days and discuss it more in class tomorrow.
----In his chapter on the Gold Rush, historian Kevin Starr argues for some of the long-term effects of the Gold Rush on the character of California, including "enormous materialism," an "ethos of survival of the fittest" and an investment in "the most compelling of American myths, the pursuit of happiness." In what ways does Norris' novel depict any or all of these elements within his San Francisco characters?
--Compare Norris' vision of the city, its patterns and 'knowability' to Poe in "The Man of the Crowd." How are they similar and how different?

--This novel's vision of human sexuality as a kind of animal force is reflective of late nineteenth-century naturalism and its notion that we are not really in control of our actions and presents Trina and McTeague's relationship as a kind of perverse dynamic (once she has kissed him, she is more committed to him, but once he has kissed her, he is less committed to her). To what extent do you find this a reasonable vision of relation between the sexes?


  1. Above all, Starr seemed to best convey the idea of "the most compelling of American myths, the pursuit of happiness."

    As he weaved through his researched narrative, we saw countless individuals that uprooted themselves and their families on a whim based on a premise of potentially striking it rich.

    What I find interesting are the parallels between modern California and the circumstances that lead to its civilization. Still today, how many people pour into California each year with vague goals of "making it" in a given industry? Starr does a great job of conceptualizing part of the history of the American dream.

  2. I too feel like Starr's narrative is indicitive, sort of an early-time precursor of pursuing this American dream is today. During the Gold Rush, people would leave by the thousands in search of something better, only to die by the thousands on the way to that American dream. It seems for awhile, as Starr described graves lining the trails toward San Francisco, that those who actually made it to this "promised land" of gold and prosperity were the luckiest people on Earth. In fact, it is noted within the chapter that those made it "deserved a fortune" due to the horrific trek from wherever these people came from. Survival of the fittest came into play as Starr began to write about the number of murders that took place along the way and their severity, some even traumatizing to those who could recollect them years later. How that relates to today is simple: people today, just like in 1848 - 49 either come here or migrate from somewhere within this country to a place such as California in search of a better way of life. That pursuit may require great loss, however, and that is why I think that a lot of times people are deceived in trying to pursue the American dream, thinking their lives will get better, but in turn it becomes harder than they thought it would be to pursue. When this point comes, it is now what I like to think of as being "by any means necessary" (murder, death, deception) to get there. I think Starr is correct in characterizing this dream as an "American Myth" as the dream easily turns to a nightmare for most, just like in this chapter.

  3. I think the dynamic presented in McTeague and Trina's relationship speaks volumes about the relationship between sexes. When Trina kisses him, she falls more in love with him, but when McTeague kisses Trina, he is less committed to her. In society, men are made to be creatures that once they have been with someone (or in this case, kissed them) they lose interest and move onto someone else, where as women get more committed in a relationship. There are many cases where this aren't true, but has been presented enough times where there is some truth behind it, and I believe Norris is making a comment on man and woman's behavior in a relationship, and how there are two different views on what kind of relationship they have.

  4. Men and women behave differently in relationships. Norris is using the relationship of Trina and McTeague to demonstrate this. In modern media there are many examples of the woman being more committed than the man. They also show the man as trying to catch the woman, then once he has her he doesn't want her as much. He is showing the same thing. Whether it is a stereotype or not, women are seen as more connected people. When they know that they want something they don't let it go. Men seem to want something and then get tired of it. Norris is showing that in a relationship there are two distinctively different parts, but that it takes two parts to make a relationship.

  5. I think Norris is using the relationship between Trina and McTeague to play out an idea on relationships that has been perpetuated by society for decades. The idea girls are given, and I have been given this advice also from time to time, is to "play hard to get" or "make the boy chase you". Whereas, I believe men are sometimes pressured to "gain more experience" or "conquer" as many women as they can before they settle down. This dynamic is played out and explored with McTeauge and Trina finally kiss and she becomes more invested as he becomes less committed. This is the fear that society tries to instill in people that as soon as you kiss (or now days, have sex) the male will become less interested and the female will be heartbroken.

  6. The myth of achieving happiness through riches or some quick lucky streak is something that has cripples our country since its existence and Norris does a wonderful job of showing that in his book. The gold rush to california is a prime example of what Americans are willing to do for money. Why do people think that money will make them happy? Look at California now. Everyone is addicted to plastic surgery. They all feel the need to have a million dollar house on the beach. Still none of it seems to make them happy.

    Norris's Portrayal of the city is very similar to Poe's. They both see the brokenness of the people there. The people in Poe's seem to be on some blind automated daily routine while the people of the gold rush in Norris's book are on some blind pursuit of happiness that they cant even see the end of. They are all like dogs chasing cars. What will they do when they do when they finally "catch the car?" or in this case get rich. What about those who die trying. This is a great story about America's great void. When will we figure out that the material world is nothing more than a labyrinth?


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