Student Question

How does the concept of social Darwinism, including natural selection and class struggle, manifest in Norris's McTeague?

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Social Darwinism is reflected in Frank Norris's novel McTeague by the way in which the characters all find their level, surviving or failing to do so through merit rather than luck.

McTeague himself is the quintessential example of a poor type by Darwinian standards. He has physical strength, which allows him to survive at the most basic level, but no intelligence, intellect, strength of character, or other more profound qualities. He is able to prosper briefly based on luck, but because he does not have the character or qualities to take advantage of this, he sinks back down to his natural level, close to the bottom of society. He ends the novel, not yet actually dead, but symbolically so: in Death Valley, chained to a corpse.

Contrast McTeague and Trina to their social, intellectual, and moral superiors, Grannis and Miss Baker. Norris is sometimes accused of inconsistency for including their love story in a novel of brutal naturalism. However, it is precisely because Grannis and Miss Baker are financially and genetically superior that they are able to prosper while McTeague and Trina perish.

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