The Octopus appeared at a time when the character of American life was assumed to be defined by the opportunity for endless growth, symbolized by the millions of acres of hearty grain that grew abundantly from the country’s fertile soil. Literature has traditionally used California to represent the country’s growth potential because European settlers arrived on the eastern shores and expanded westward, making the west coast the last area to be developed. Whenever it seemed that America’s natural potential was in any danger of facing limitations, there was always the promise that California had to offer. From mineral richness to agricultural bounty, California remained, time and again, a land that promised greatness.
In this novel, the farmers represent a natural culture. Not only do they work with soil and seed to produce nutritious wheat, but they also have a close-knit, moral society, willing to lend a hand to others who are temporarily down on their luck and careful to maintain traditional moral behaviors. Their society is presented as being almost perfect, but it is threatened from without by heartless and amoral aggression of the railroad.
The railroad, in this novel, represents a culture driven solely by profit, with no human concern. It is a product of technology, which allows it to be run from edicts passed far away, by people who make decisions affecting lives that they will never encounter. Norris...
(The entire section is 1122 words.)
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