McTeague: Frank Norris' Expression of Social Darwinism

5 May 2019

The theory of Social Darwinism avows that biologically superior humans endure, while genetically inferior individuals die out. Author Frank Norris, a proponent of Social Darwinism, asserted that one should remain within his inborn social class. In his view, if one acts contrary to his inherited societal state, then Social Darwinism will level him back to his innate societal class. Frank Norris expressed this theory in his novel McTeague. Through his conceptualization of Social Darwinism, Frank Norris illustrated the downfall of Trina and McTeague, and Maria and Zerkow, and the prosperity of Old Grannis and Miss Baker.

Despite their white European ancestry, McTeague and Trina changed their financial status too abruptly, which ultimately led to their demise. For example, when Trina wins the lottery, the McTeagues quickly climb the social ladder. Accordingly, an abrupt financial deviation ensues with McTeague and Trina. Trina’s penny-pinching tendencies worsen, while McTeague spirals into an unemployed drunk. Eventually, when Trina continues to deny him money, McTeague brutally murders her. After escaping the authorities, McTeague digresses back to the life of a miner, his natural occupation. In spite of their white heritage, the McTeagues’ hasty transformation of social status serves as a prime example of Norris’ view of Social Darwinism.

McTeague: Frank Norris' Expression of Social Darwinism Essay Example

Unlike the McTeagues, Zerkow and Maria represent the marital union of the lowest ancestral classes of society, which confirms their destiny to fail. Zerkow, a Jew, marries Maria based on a financial fallacy. As Maria’s memory of the gold dishes depletes, Zerkow’s lust for the gold dishes intensifies. Maria’s continual denial of her fictitious family affluence infuriates the Jew, and he eventually cut her throat. The downfall of the marital union results from Maria and Zerkow’s biological inferiority. According to Norris, Zerkow’s and Maria’s marriage, biologically speaking, is naturally bound for catastrophe.

Contrary to the previous examples, the union of Old Grannis and Miss Baker exemplifies the proper integration of wealth and lineage. While the other characters in the novel attempt to fill prevailing voids in their lives through monetary means, Old Grannis and Miss Baker fill their void with authentic love. The fulfillment of this void comes when Miss Baker brings Old Grannis a cup of tea. Norris portrays the prosperity of Old Grannis’ and Miss Baker’s union, as a result of their biological superiority. The elderly white European couple possesses a genetic disposition for opulence and material comfort.

Incorporating elements of Social Darwinism, Frank Norris demonstrated the breakdown of hereditarily inferior couples and the success of intrinsically superior couples. McTeague and Trina brusquely rose in social class, so the couple parted in death. Among the bottom barrel of society, the marriage of Zerkow and Maria, likewise, resulted in dissolution. Finally, Old Grannis and Miss Baker endured successfully due to their Anglo-Saxon heritage. Despite Norris’ views expressed in the novel, survival of the fittest theories should not be applied to human civilization.

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