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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Frank Norris's McTeague is an American naturalistic novel. The novel follows the protagonist McTeague, called Mac. Over the course of the novel, Mac tries to change his circumstances in life. The novel points out, in true naturalistic form, that man is not really in control of life. In fact, nature is in control.

This idea is illuminated by the characters of Mac, Trina, and Marcus. All three characters find that no matter what they do to try and change their personal circumstances, the nature of life and the world around them always wins.

A summary of the novel is as follows:

McTeague is a man set in his ways. He eats at the same time and the same thing pretty much every day. His dull life leaves him craving more, although he is unaware of this in the beginning. It is not until Trina comes in complaining of tooth pain that Mac realizes he needs more in his life. Eventually, Mac and Trina marry.

Trina has always wanted to be part of a higher class than her "current" place. In marrying Mac, she believes that his position as a dentist will allow her to move into a more respected social circle. It is not until she wins the lottery, a sum of five thousand dollars, that she begins to truly feel successful. Although she did not "earn" the money, she feels as though it has given her a real sense of security. Unfortunately, the money will come to be her downfall.

Mac and Trina argue repeatedly about money. Since they are married, Mac feels as though they should share the money to support their family and expenses. Trina disagrees, claiming that the money is hers alone.

The three main characters in the novel all undergo major changes. Marcus, a friend of Mac, changes as he seeks to better his own personal circumstances, much like Mac and Trina. He successfully moves up the social ladder because of his determination. Unfortunately for Marcus, his failure to realize that one can only do so much to escape societal constraints ultimately becomes his downfall.

In the end, everything each of the characters has done leads to one place only: death. The naturalistic nature of the novel proves true again; man cannot overcome the nature of the world around them. All three die as a direct result of failing to accept what they have and obstinately seeking out more. Trina dies at the hands of her husband when she refuses to give him the lottery winnings. Marcus dies after being shot by Mac for trying to take the money Mac took from Trina. Mac dies, handcuffed to Marcus' dead body, in the middle of Death Valley (where he went to strike it rich prospecting for gold). Essentially, a summary of the novel refers to the idea that mankind will never be able to surpass the limitations established by nature. Nature has a plan for all of mankind: death. It is only nature that will continue to survive.

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