The Spoilers Essay - Critical Essays

Rex Beach

Critical Evaluation

THE SPOILERS is a lusty book about a raw new land filled with adventurers and gamblers of all kinds. Blood and thunder leap forth from every page. The real fault of the novel is the number of coincidences. In his scenes of action, Rex Beach is at his best. His descriptions and dramatic incidents, like the battle at the mines or the epic bare-handed duel between the hero and the villain, are his best work. The merit of the book lies in such, not in the loosely planned plot or the love story.

Pure and simple, Beach is a master of physical violence. His novel abounds in terrifying fights, made doubly realistic by allusion in closest detail to crunching bones and tearing clothes. In the titanic duel that ends the novel—the final confrontation between Glenister and McNamara—both men turn into wild beasts. After the hero loses the use of his hand (“A sudden darting agony paralyzed Roy’s hand, and he realized that he had broken the metacarpal bones”), boxing is discarded for brutal wrestling. Roy subdues the villain with a hammerlock and breaks his arm. The climax of the novel, this event gives the title to the penultimate chapter: “The Hammer-Lock.”

Beach blends a vulgarized naturalism with adventure and romance. His hero’s brutishness, though at first odious to Helen Chester, finally enthralls her because of its directness and honesty. “My pagan,” she murmurs at the final embrace, somewhat cowed by the realization that all human beings have brutal instincts: “You told me once that the wilderness had made you a savage, and I laughed ... when you said ... that we’re all alike, and that those motives are in us all. I see now that you were right and I was very simple.”

It is Beach’s context for this cardinal principle of Naturalism—the primitive streak in all human existence—that is simple. Naturalists like Norris and Dreiser demonstrate in such powerful works as MCTEAGUE and SISTER CARRIE that brutality and corruption are very near the surface in all people; what they do not do is suggest that the release of these forces can lead to adventure and romance. Quite the contrary. Naturalism often approaches tragedy by revealing the dark limitations of man, the obstacles that heredity and environment present to his happiness and moral health.