A course blog for The American Novel to 1900
Lukas Johnson and Nick OdmarkArticle: Don Graham. “Art and Humanity in McTeague” (312-327). One of the overall points that Graham makes in this article is that McTeague can wrongly be pigeon-holed (or rather, canary-caged) into a book that simply centers around themes of naturalism. However, there is in reality a lot more at work in the novel, depending on the reader’s critical lens. Graham says that issues of humanity, class, and the struggles of the lower class are also major thematic elements of the novel. Also, he points out that while it is easy to see the vulgarity of some of these characters, the aesthetics of art are nevertheless present in this novel. However, Graham seems to focus his analysis of the aesthetics of naturalism in the context of space. He compares specific types of space to the characters of McTeague and Trina. Openness or vastness defines McTeague, while constriction defines Trina. As they grow closer together, Trina’s aesthetic begins to take over their relationship. Marriage represents an entrapment of sorts, so this reflects the final establishment of Trina’s influence over McTeague.. Graham states that “The question of refinement becomes uppermost in Trina’s attitude towards her giant husband. Their life is to be in rooms...McTeague is gross and awkward in Trina’s eyes. So she sets out to improve his tastes” (321). Graham’s interpretation of their relationship suggests more traditional themes of naturalism, so it could be argued that Norris is fighting against these concepts with the character of McTeague. However, Graham points out that McTeague comes to an end in the space that represents his aesthetic. So the question can be asked, was he trying to show the fallacies of naturalism itself? It is unlikely, because Graham seems to be defending Norris’ writing against critics. He mentions that the ending of the book was criticized by many as melodramatic and anti-climactic, but states “The ending of McTeague is justified...it climaxes the evaluation of landscapes, of interior and exterior space, that forms the central and controlling tension of the novel” (325).Graham states that his peers would have all recognized the work as a criticism of the Gilded Age, in which physical appearance was optimistic and flashy, but it did not hold up to expectations (321). The guilded tooth was the most obvious example of this, since McTeague is clearly not certified to be a dentist, yet he clings to this shallow aesthetic representation of legitimacy.Perhaps the only possible problem with the article is that while the reliance on block quotes is helpful in establishing a context, some of these quotes may be considered to be excessively long, distracting from the focus of the article and of the points of his examples.
"Presence and Power in McTeague"- William E. CainDespite the lack of educated language Norris still exhibits powerful moments within 'McTeague.' Cain introduces his critique with- "Few critics deny the imaginative range and power of his novels, but even his admireres concede that his style, whatever his skill at portraying epic effects and action on a grand scale, lurches at times into the outrageous and laughable" (328). Cain goes onto state that although Norris can go overboard, such drama and depth only shows Norris' presence in the novel and his interest in McTeague's raw power. Most of Cain's support comes straight from the novel. Cain is refuting the fact that Norris is not worth reading by due to his bad writing and not worth discussing the occurrence of powerful scenes in McTeague. This argument fits into the idea that a work can still be strong even with the presence of bad grammar. Cain is overunning the idea that grammar dictates classical literature.Cain's representation of this argument is strongest in the fact that he represents both sides of the debate- that Norris shouldn't be read to bad writing and that Norris has powerful scenes that should be read. An example of such a powerful scene is when Trina is lusting with her gold; or even when McTeague battles the brute within to kiss Trina in the dentist office. One flaw is the lack of dissection of Norris' writing. We see repeatedly evidence that suggest Norris' bad writing, but we never see an example of actual bad writing dissected. This article allowed the reader to visualize the presence of Norris within the pages of 'McTeague' through the character structures and powerful scenes that add depth and meaning. Although this critique added knowledge and background to 'McTeague' it was not essential to understand the main themes and timelessness of 'McTeague.'
David BoucherHarvard Themes from McTeague & The Genesis of McTeagueThe first article is not necesarily a critical view of McTeague. Instead, it shows us early paragraphs and extracts in the creation of McTeague, while Norris was at Harvard. It then has 'Abbott' giving reviews, and 'Hart' offering explanation as to the changes made from this point, or how the paragraph was an evolution in some way. It is a good source of information, and gives a great insight into the growth of the book and characters within.The second article is The Genesis of McTeague by Donald Pizer. It tell us of the pre-McTeague days and where Norris got some of the inspirations. For example, he got murder from a laborer named Collins, who murdered his wife, stabbing her to death in the cloakroom of a kindergarden. It also says Norris resebled LAmbroso's "optimistic darwinism" within his stories; how being a criminal was a reversion to an earlier epoch, rather than an evolution. It gives very great insight and does alot of research into the background. It is presented well and is an all-around great article.
Thanks for posting these, Lukas, David, and Margeux.