Frank Norris’ McTeague was published in 1899 and focuses on McTeague, a not-so-intelligent dentist, and Trina Sieppe, a young woman he becomes infatuated with, steals away from her boyfriend, and eventually marries. The central conflict of the story is focused on money. Trina wins money, but is too thrifty to share with McTeague, who has become her husband. Later he takes her money, then returns and wants more. He winds up beating her to death and taking all of her fortune. On the run, then, he ends up fighting Trina’s first beau, Marcus, in the middle of Death Valley and is left handcuffed to Marcus’ corpse with no more water.
One approach to analyze this story would be to explore the conflict of man vs. man and the role money plays in the conflict. For each character, money is a means of control and power. Each character who has the money also has the power in the relationship. As the money shifts from one character to another, the reader can see the ill effects of trying to gain control through ill-gotten means. Greed, then, is a central theme of the novel. Norris tries to depict the dangers of greed as it is seen through the moral deterioration of his characters.