Student Question

How does the change of scenery impact the characters and events throughout the novel?

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The deterioration in Trina and McTeague's relationship is symbolized and exacerbated by the increasing squalor of their living quarters. In chapter 9, the couple are married in an attractive set of rooms that McTeague rents from a photographer. The rooms are clean, spacious, and in good repair:

The sitting-room was particularly charming. Clean matting covered the floor, and two or three bright colored rugs were scattered here and there. The backs of the chairs were hung with knitted worsted tidies, very gay.

By the time the reader arrives at chapter 18, the couple are living in filth:

The one room grew abominably dirty, reeking with the odors of cooking and of "non-poisonous" paint. The bed was not made until late in the afternoon, sometimes not at all. Dirty, unwashed crockery, greasy knives, sodden fragments of yesterday's meals cluttered the table, while in one corner was the heap of evil-smelling, dirty linen. Cockroaches appeared in the crevices of the woodwork, the wall-paper bulged from the damp walls and began to peel. Trina had long ago ceased to dust or to wipe the furniture with a bit of rag. The grime grew thick upon the window panes and in the corners of the room. All the filth of the alley invaded their quarters like a rising muddy tide.

It is important to note that this descent into squalor occurs while Trina still has plenty of money. It is not poverty that forces the couple to live like this, but their own lack of hope and self-respect. The details of domestic disorder in the second passage could, for the most part, be remedied without money, since no money is required to make a bed, wash dishes, or dust furniture.

The impact of these changes of scene works in two directions, creating a downward spiral. As the couple become more hopeless and miserable, they cease to take care of themselves and their living space. The atmosphere of the depressing, filthy rooms they inhabit then adds to their unhappiness.

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