What are some of the strongest literary elements in Frank Norris's The Octopus?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Literary elements refer to anything that is required in a narrative to make it a written story as opposed to a verbal story. literary elements include things like tone, plot, setting, characters, mood, theme, and structure. Literary elements are different from literary techniques in that techniques are any of the extra, intricate details a writer might use to develop the elements, such as figurative language, foreshadowing, and irony. So, to analyze which literary elements are the strongest, take a look through the book and see what elements stand out for you. Below are a couple of ideas to help get you started.

If we take a look at the first chapter of Frank Norris's The Octopus, we see that right away we are introduced to several characters, including the protagonist Presley and the powerful ranch couple, Mr. and Mrs. Magnus Derrick. Also, since the sound of a train's steam whistle is one of the first things Presley hears when entering Bonneville, we are also introduced to the railroad and its agents as the antagonist. As the story progresses, we're introduced to even more characters, such as the president and agents of the railroad company, the mystic shepherd Vanamee, and all of the ranchers. Since the story is told mostly through the characters and their situations, it can be argued that one of the strongest literary elements in The Octopus is the inclusion of characters.

As we continue reading, we might even ask ourselves, what point is Norris making, and how well is he making it? Authors will make their points through both themes and tone. As we continue to read, it becomes very clear that the conflict in the book concerns the fact the railroad company is trying to control and swindle the ranchers, showing that one theme is monopolization. What's more, he uses the literary device of pastoral allusion to set the ranchers up as the good guys and the railroad agents as the bad guys. An allusion is when an author refers to people, places, events, or passages found in other literature. Pastoral literature was a type of literature developed by the Ancient Greeks and made popular again in the Elizabethan era; it particularly depicts country life as a type of utopia and city life as the exact opposite. Pastoral literature often contains shepherds and romance; therefore, it's clear that Norris uses the mystic shepherd Vanamee who is obsessed with his deceased love to create a pastoral allusion. Through this pastoral allusion, the author establishes his judgement that the ranchers are the good guys who are being poorly treated by the railroad company, which also establishes Norris's tone. A writer's tone is the writer's attitude toward the subject, and since it's very clear Norris has established the railroad company as the bad guys, it's very clear that Norris's tone towards the monopoly of the railroad industry is one of criticism. Hence, another strong literary element found in the book is tone.