In The Octopus, why does Frank Norris think that violence is inevitable in the search for justice during the late 19th century?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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"Blame conditions, not men," is one of the most significant quotes from this novel which explores the massive compeling irony in the farmers of California not being able to afford to feed their families because of the way in which the Railroad, the inhuman and impersonal corporation, takes their harvest away and sets prices, refusing to pay them a fair wage in return for their labour and hard work. Scenes of ripe, bountiful harvests juxtaposed with the farmers struggling to make ends meet highlight the injustice and unethical nature of the situation. The quote stating that it is only "conditions" that can be blamed rather than "men" points towards the way in which the Railroad corporation becomesĀ a faceless entity that has a life of its own, and seemingly is not influenced by any single individual. The farmers with their rather naive belief in justice try every legal recourse to try and solve their situation and win justice for themselves, but in the end the novel clearly demonstrates the link between power and profit, as cemented by the example of Lyman Derrick, who at the novel's end is running for governor of California whilst being on the payroll of the Railroad. Note what one of the characters says about the importance of violence in such an environment:

Wait till you see--at the same time that your family is dying for lack of bread--a hundred thousand acres of wheat-millions of bushels of food-grabbed and gobbled by the Railroad Trust, and then talk of moderation. That talk is just what the Trust wants to hear. It ain't frightened of that. There's one thing only it does listen to, one things it is frightened of--the people with dynamite in their hands--six inches of plugged gaspipe. That talks.

As the Railroad corporation is presented as a many-headed hydra of a beast who has no human face and therefore is immune to any human appeal and impenetrable to the pleas for justice, there is only violence. This becomes the only way to state the message of protest with any efficacy, as dynamite is the only thing which is said to "talk." Norris in this novel therefore presents the political and economic situation as favouring massive corporations such as the Railroad Trust to such an extent that incredible injustice is practised and even sanctioned by the state. In such conditions, violence becomes the only recourse.

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