Mcteague: A Story of San Francisco

by Frank Norris

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What external and environmental forces control McTeague's behavior in McTeague: A Story of San Francisco?

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American writer Frank Norris's 1899 novel, McTeague: A Story of San Francisco is an excellent example of his aesthetic philosophy of naturalism. As opposed to romanticism, naturalism sought to create literature in a more realistic mode (although, confusingly, it differs from realism) and saw the main influences on humanity as environment and heredity. See the below link for a fuller discussion.

In a naturalist view of the world then, Norris's titular protagonist is doomed, as he is born into poverty. His family are miners, and he is described as being somewhat slow-witted, even though he goes into dentistry. The second major external influence on him is his marriage to Trina, a cousin of his friend Marcus. Money is always a big factor in these type of novels, and, initially, it seems as if McTeague has lucked out, as Trina wins five thousand dollars in the lottery. However, Trina doesn't want the money touched, and they mostly live off his earnings as a dentist. Money continues to be an important factor throughout the novel.

A third influence on McTeague is the aforementioned character of Marcus, who is jealous of McTeague and the money Trina won, and the men eventually get into an altercation. Tragedy strikes when McTeague loses his dental practice, and we learn that Marcus tipped off the authorities that McTeague was practicing without a license. The two men's adversarial relationship leads to both of their deaths, as the men battle in Death Valley over water and money. Death Valley is a perfect symbol for the indifference of nature in Norris's fictional world.

The novel was filmed by Erich Von Stroheim as Greed.

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