Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Barrington. “Second-class town” located in Worcester County in central Massachusetts that is the “native town” of Laura Dearborn, the novel’s principal female character. Laura’s upper-middle-class New England upbringing provides her with a background in literature and a reading knowledge of French, but because of the death of her father, the stilted social climate of the town, and the presence of an aunt living in Chicago, she eventually pulls up stakes and moves west.

*Grand Rapids

*Grand Rapids. Western Michigan town near which the novel’s principal male character, Curtis Jadwin, grew up on a farm. Curtis briefly attends high school there but quits to enter the livery stable business and later moves to Chicago. There, he attains great wealth through real estate speculation. Curtis and Laura bring together the economic and cultural strains found in Norris’s depiction of Chicago.


*Chicago. Great midwestern commercial center and hub of the nation’s commodities trading. The dual character of Chicago, as both a cultural and an economic center, is best seen through individual sites that figure into Norris’s novel. At the same time, the city as a whole is wonderfully described in the novel, and there are particularly fine, often poetical, descriptions of the city’s changing seasons.

*Chicago Auditorium


(The entire section is 595 words.)

The Pit: A Story of Chicago Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Graham, Don, comp. Critical Essays on Frank Norris. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980. Includes the anonymous contemporary review “The Pit: A Dispassionate Examination of Frank Norris’ Posthumous Novel,” Warren French’s “It’s When You Are Quiet That You Are at Your Best,” and Joseph Katz’s “Eroticism in The Pit.”

Graham, Don. The Fiction of Frank Norris: The Aesthetic Context. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1978. The chapter on The Pit discusses differences between this novel and Norris’ other fiction. It is, for example, set in Chicago rather than California, it contains many musical and literary allusions, and, most significant, it reflects Norris’s preoccupation with drama. Like a drama, the novel has few main characters and is staged in confined settings. In addition, The Pit includes a professional opera, an amateur play, and other plays.

Hochman, Barbara. The Art of Frank Norris, Storyteller. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1988. This study of recurrent motifs shows Norris as a more complex writer than do traditional assessments of his work. The chapter “Coming of Age in The Pit” uses the symbolic wheat pit to discuss the novel.

McElrath, Joseph R., Jr. Frank Norris Revisited. New York: Twayne, 1992. This critical biography offers a thorough discussion of The Pit, which McElrath calls “a novel of complications” because of its “sustained alternating portraits of [Laura and Jadwin’s] worsening psychological condition.”

Pizer, Donald. The Novels of Frank Norris. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1966. Discusses Norris’ rationale and creation process in writing The Octopus and The Pit, as well as the influence of French naturalists Joseph LeConte and Émile Zola.