Monday, November 15, 2010

Norris, McTeague, Day#3

--This scene is, again, from the movie "Greed," depicting the climactic scene in Death Valley (Stroheim filmed on location). Consider the depiction of the landscape and space of the mining country of the West that fills this final section of the novel. How is it represented? What is it likened to? How does it serve as a representation of man's place in the universe?

--In this narrative, two of the marriages end in bloody murder of the woman. And yet we also have Old Grannis and Miss Baker, who come together and seem happy. What is the lesson or moral here?

--Late in the novel, McTeague is driven endlessly onward by a force, an instinct, that he can't fight. What is Norris saying about humans, free will and our relationship to animals here?

--Throughout the whole narrative and despite committing acts of horrible depravity, McTeague never gives up his canary and the final image of the book is of the canary. What does it represent or symbolize to you?


  1. I saw the canary as a symbol as his past self. There was a part of him that always belonged in a mine. The mine was an integral part of his being. There is a sense of predestination in this novel, because of the character’s lack of free will. Perhaps Frank Norris was making a comment about how certain people are meant to be certain things. Although those people may choose a different path, deep down they are still meant for certain occupations, or supposed to have certain characteristics. When McTeague returns to the mines, all of his old instincts return. In fact, his instincts led him back to the mine. It was as though mining was part of his blood, and thus part of his being. No matter where he traveled, or what kind of occupation he found, he would always be a miner. The canary, which he carried with him everywhere, was a tangible symbol of a life he was supposed to lead, but did not. The canary and McTeague are paralleled in the last sentence of the novel. Both the canary and McTeague are in a sort of prison, that they will die in. Norris was saying there is a certain predestination, which if not followed will lead to death and other problematic situations.

  2. Old Grannis and Miss Baker's relationship in the novel is the only one to survive by the end of the story, and for a good reason. The timidness of both leads to their success, as the other relationships are based on a beastly passion rather than the simplistic love that is had by Baker and Grannis.

    With McTeague and Trina's relationship, McTeague wanted to be with Trina right after he saw how beautiful and sweet she was. He thought her a pretty thing that his beastly side had to conquer. She in turn was eventually satisfied with the fact that a successful dentist wanted her as his wife.Zarkow and Maria were only together because Zarkow wanted to constantly hear about the gold serving set that she believes that her family owned when she was a child, and perhaps one day find it.He marries her because of his passion for gold and Maria marries him just so she can be married. These women fell prey to their beastly husbands.

    Old Grannis, however, never shows a beastly side. He is perfectly content throughout the whole of the book to sit next to the wall where Miss Baker sits on the other side drinking tea. It seems that the moral of the story is to be careful in choosing a man, as the more passionate men have a more beastly side to them which could lead to the demise of the wife.

  3. McTeague's insatiable instinct to keep moving onward, feeling of being tracked down by an invisible enemy is a reflection of Norris' view of the characters and of humans throughout the novel. He continually makes comparisons between animals and humans, particularly about McTeague. He makes him out to be nothing but a brute, not much different from a mere beast. During the ending, he likens McTeague to an animal of prey being hunted down by a predator. Animals are said to have sharp instincts, stronger than human's. But, humans are said to be distinguished from animals by their free will, to think as individuals, choose their own actions. McTeague, however, has an acute instinct of being chased like the instinct of an animal, and is so overcome by it that his free will fails him. The instinct overpowers his will, making him become more animal than human. In the end, Norris is saying that humans are mere animals, that there is not such a vast distinction between us and them as we suppose, that humans are not superior beings to animals.

  4. The landscape in the last section of the novel definitely holds a power over the characters. Even at the start of chapter 20, the land and its features are described as, "tremendous," "immeasurable," "gigantic," and "suggestive of colossal primeval forces" (pg 289). The mining country is almost violent, as the mill is personified as a monster, "like some savage animal." Each description at the beginning of this final section is powerful, dark and seemingly violent. As McTeague makes his way toward Mexico, there is actually some nice imagery (for once). He seems to find water somewhat easily and enjoys a nice sunset, made up of "faint colors, pink, purple, and pale orange" and McTeague notes that "nothing could hav ebeen more beautiful than the deep red of the higher bluffs and ridges, seemed with purple shadows" (pg. 318). However, it's almost as if the earth and the landscape are playing a cruel trick on him because as he descends further into the desert, the earth feels "like the surface of a furnace."

    Even in the final scene, as McTeague kills Marcus, the act is made so much more unpleasant and unbearable to read as "clouds of alkali dust, fine and pungent, enveloped the two fighting men, all but strangling them" (pg. 336). Although the book ends horribly, with Marcus handcuffing himself to McTeague in his final moments, the fact that they are stranded in Death Valley makes the whole thing so much more horrible. The landscape has such a great power over the men and I think it plays a huge part in the end of the novel.

  5. As soon as I read the question I wanted to comment on question about the marriages ending in bloody murder of the woman, and then Old Grannis and Ms. Baker's marriage which seems to have a happy, content ending.

    Then I read Julie's answer and I feel she basically nailed it, or at least said about everything I was thinking. However I will expand on ideas I had.

    I feel the moral of the story relates similar to what we discussed Thursday during class, the materialistic side of things. As Julie mentioned, Zarkow fell in love (if you will) with Maria because of the gold serving set, and most likely his desire to find it. And then Maria just had a simple desire to be married. Although perhaps not quite as materialistic as Trina and McTeague, they still had love for material items, not true love. (We already discussed how McTeague and Trina were materialistic).

    I want to point out that I said Baker and Grannis are content, because I don't feel that is the same as HAPPY!. Content can mean happy, or content can mean satisfied. Perhaps they are indeed happy, however I feel the moral is to understand what you truly want out of life and whatever you choose, you must live and die by it (take it to the grave with you in a sense) as Norris clearly points out. If one is in love with the material, then perhaps that makes them happy but (the moral) they must understand it's not long lasting.

    Whereas in Old Grannis and Miss Baker's case, if one can find true love, or at least satisfaction in just the presence of another person, that happiness can be long and ever lasting. Eventually greed for the material will catch up with you though.

  6. The animal instinct of McTeague's is a doubleness that not only is subscribed to McTeague alone. There is a doubleness in the characters of Mac, Trina and Marcus. Each of these characters also have fallen under the persuasion of avarice. Norris is perhaps trying to tackle a giant theme of the effects or consequences of greed. It may be that brutish instincts, murderous desires and being a hoarder distort the line between humanity and an animal. It is because money restricts your free will and influences your actions and it is a fatal influence for the three main characters.

    The canary to me is symbolized all three characters. All trapped in a gilt (gold-covered) prison. They were in the prison of avarice and it left them for dead. The canary is constantly in this cage and is never seen out of it. I think it was just a constant in this whole story and was a tool for foreshadowing and irony.

    The desert scene is the most powerful scene I've read in a long time. The book mentions that death valley is simply not made for humans to be in. I find it interesting that McTeague and Marcus are the only humans in the Death Valley and the book has already allowed the reader to question their actual humanity and if that line from man to animal had been crossed. The story of McTeague is a cautionary tale for a country that became obsessed with material goods.

  7. I thought that McTeague being driven onward by a force to be very telling. Throughout the novel, he is described in very animalistic terms. Animals can sense danger when many humans cannot and it is interesting that McTeague has this "sixth sense" as well. When he is with Cribbens, he keeps sensing that someone is hiding off in the horizon and keeps asking Cribbens, "did you hear that?". It is interesting that McTeague has developed this animal instinct, but Cribbens has not. What does it say about McTeague that he has this animal trait while others may not? Has he evolved past others or has his greed caused him to deteriorate to the same moral and ethical level of animals? I think the extent of McTeague's animalistic beahvior does not fully show itself until the end of the novel. Between the sixth sense and cold blooded killings, I definitely believe McTeague is a human driven by greed to the point that he loses his sense of morality.

  8. I thought that McTeague's obsessive keeping of his canary was representative of several things about McTeague and his life. Canaries are used in coal mining as sorts of alarms and a communication system, and it would make sense that McTeague kept the canary with him because he came from mining country and it is something of a representative of his home and a souvenir from his past. Also, I think McTeague feels a responsibility to look out for the bird and to provide for its well-being and happiness, which he cannot or will not do for any other person in his life. I don't want to simplify it to a Citizin Kane "Rosebud" type of thing, but I think that there's an element of that there - a last reminder of something real and human in a life thats otherwise been corrupted by greed, malevolent ambition, and desire. However, I also think there's something very metaphorical about Norris' use of the canary. For much of the book, it is caged up in McTeague's parlors and is placed by the window, and for much of the book, McTeague cloisters himself away within his parlors as well. McTeague is also locked within himself in a way - his mind and emotions are not expressed well from within his huge body, and he is not able to go out into the city and live the life he did when he was growing up in mining country. He seems like a man trapped for much of the novel which leads to his anxiety and anger, ultimately culminating in the book's finale, and I think the canary is his companion in captivity.

  9. This picture perfectly describes the scene depicted in the first paragraph of chapter 20. The desert is something that I had invisioned, perhaps with some cactuses and old western music but still pretty close. This picture represents the patheticness of mans love for wealth. "The love of money is the root of all evil." That quote is all that think of while reading this book. These men let the love for gold and riches drive them, quite literally, into the ground. McTeague kills Marcus but then, by hand cuffs, is forced to babysit his dead body until he himself dehydrates to death. Neither of these two men gained what they lost their lives for. They died unsatisfied and alone.

    I wonder when man will finally get it. The purpose of life is not about what we achieve through riches. We cannot be satisfied with a search that does not end. When will we, the human race, say that what we have is enough? When will we say no to "just a little more?" Until we answer these questions, I don't know if we will ever know our place in the universe.

  10. None of the couples end up happy. I think that going along with the animalistic traits that we talked about in class, that people are like animals in that they just do what they need to survive. Happiness and survival are not directly related, therefore happiness is not always reached. Even though Grannis and Ms. Baker live, they are not happy, they are content. I think that he is saying that there is no such thing as a fairy tale, and that life is about wealth and survival. I don't think he is saying that happiness cannot be reached, but that it is not as important as wealth and contentment. It does all go back to the basic animal way of life, just looking out for yourself. It is interesting that we think of ourselves as being much better than animals, but yet we can draw direct correlations.

  11. In response to animal vs. freewill I would have to say that Norris believes that circumstance, genes, and upbringing guide one's decisions and there is a small amount of room to deviate from the envitable based on those 3 things. From Rachel's post above she stated that she believed Norris felt that humans were animals and were not that much different from the wild beings. While I agree that Norris portrays that there is not a vast difference between us and animals, I do think that there is a substantial difference.; evidence of this appears in Old Grannis and Miss Baker's relationship because of their evident caution and restraint. I think evidence appears again when McTeague and Marcus fight after they have already realized neither of them was getting the reward. For better or for worse, with the circumstance they were in, their heredity, and their nuture brought them to the decision that they were going to fight in Death Valley over something meaningless. I differ this from animals because animals do not feel the need for revenge, hold grudges, or kill out of spite.

  12. I think that Norris has a sad view of humans. the idea that humans are controlled by instinct which robs them of their own free will is a little depressing. norris seems to compare Mcteague to an animal when he decribes him as being hunted like pray. Personally, I dont think that humans generally behave this way. We have control over our actions, despite what instincts we might feel pilling at us. I can think of times when I have felt hunted, though not in life threatening circumstances. but When playing paintball for instance, there is a feeling that any minute someone is going to jump out and shoot you. A few deep breaths and its gone. Now when someone is hunting you that could take your life, I suppose I could understand not being able to fight this instinct well. Norris seems to think that fighting these natural instincts is not just difficult but impossible. He thinks were much closer to animals than we think.


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