Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

El Rancho de los Muertos

El Rancho de los Muertos. Largest ranch of the four San Joaquin Valley ranches in which the novel is set. Containing ten thousand acres of land, it is run by Magnus Derrick and his son, Harran. It consists of the home ranch, nestled in the north end in a grove of eucalyptus, oak, and cypress trees; two division houses; a tenant farmer’s house; and the house of Hooven, a German immigrant who farms a section of the ranch. The Derrick ranch home is a stately structure, containing many bedrooms, a large kitchen, an expansive dining room, a hallway with a glass ceiling, and an office—the center of the operation, in which telephones, a stock market ticker, and record books are kept. The house’s lawn is as well groomed as any city garden. The property also has a summer house Derrick has constructed for his mother.

The ranch reveals Derrick’s deep concern for respectability, integrity, and family. The dispersal of the family’s belongings onto the lawn reveals the great loss and fragmentation that result from the railroad’s seizure of the property at the novel’s end. At Hooven’s house, the farmers make a stand against the railroad’s occupation of the farms, resulting in the deaths of several farmers, including Hooven and Harran Derrick.

Quien Sabe Ranch

Quien Sabe Ranch. Farm run by young, contrary Buck Annixter, lying north of the Derrick ranch. It comprises Annixter’s ranch house and barns, and an artesian well that feeds the irrigation ditch. Annixter raises a new barn on the place in which he holds a dance, the most significant social event occurring on any of the ranches during the course of the book. His hard-driving ways are softened by his love for Hilma Tree, daughter of the family who operates Annixter’s dairy farm. Annixter’s compassion and benevolence extend far beyond his own interests, as after his wedding to Hilma, they take in the dispossessed Dyke family. The Quien Sabe becomes the warmest and most harmonious ranch of the four, epitomizing the novel’s vision of the powers of love and close connection to the land.

Osterman ranch

Osterman ranch and Broderson ranch. These ranches, which play less prominent roles than the other two, occupy the northwest sections of the novel’s wide, interconnected region of wheat farms. Both are given little treatment and do not serve as settings for any significant scenes. Nevertheless, they illustrate the vast sweep of the wheat-farming community. Osterman, a young, brash “poser,” does not live on the ranch but in a house in Bonneville. He farms simply as a way of making a living. Broderson, on the other hand, is an aging man, slipping...

(The entire section is 1112 words.)

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

Big Business
The American economic system is based on the principle that anyone with enough determination can start a business,...

(The entire section is 1063 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Frank Norris’ writings, especially his earlier novel McTeague, are considered by literary critics to mark...

(The entire section is 1039 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Although critics have disagreed about whether Norris was philosophically consistent in The Octopus, no one has denied that in this...

(The entire section is 493 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Octopus, Norris's most ambitious and ambiguous novel, is set in the San Joaquin Valley in California in the 1880s and details a...

(The entire section is 631 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1901: The automobile has been invented, but few people can afford them. Under 20,000 motor cars are sold in the United States this...

(The entire section is 321 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

Airplanes and trucks, neither of which existed when this story took place, have significantly changed the influence of rail freight. Research...

(The entire section is 217 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The contrast between the radically opposed forces of the railroad and the wheat which forms the basis of the essential story narrated in...

(The entire section is 705 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

While adaptations of The Octopus are scarce because of the novel’s sprawling nature, Norris’s book McTeague is available on...

(The entire section is 31 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

Norris’ novel McTeague, published in 1899, is considered by some to be his greatest work and one of the most influential pieces of...

(The entire section is 325 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Barry, John D., “New York Letter,” in Literary World, March 18, 1899.

Hicks, Granville, “The...

(The entire section is 280 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Davison, Richard A., ed. The Merrill Studies in “The Octopus.” Columbus: C. E. Merrill Co., 1969. A collection of essays on the novel. Included are contemporary reviews and personal letters of Norris relevant to the book’s composition.

French, Warren. Frank Norris. New York: Twayne, 1962. A source for beginning a study of Norris and his literary achievement. Biographical material is accompanied by a scholarly discussion of important texts.

Graham, Don. The Fiction of Frank Norris: The Aesthetic Context. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1978. An in-depth study of the aesthetic sources...

(The entire section is 198 words.)