How Stereotypical . . .
In Frank Norris’ novel, McTeague, Norris uses ethnic stereotypes of immigrant characters to convey the naturalistic theme of uncertainty about whether anything can be gained and to show the recoil of immigrants in the United States in the nineteenth century. Norris recreates a lifelike setting of late nineteenth century San Francisco, which at the time was a place where it was difficult for immigrants to succeed because of prejudice against them from Americans. Norris uses San Francisco as a backdrop to the stories of the immigrant characters of McTeague, Trina, and Zerkow, who all strive to gain something, but do not succeed because of prejudges placed on them and their inherent greed. Norris creates the protagonist, McTeague, to be a “heavy, slow to act, [and] sluggish” Irish American (Norris 3). He has a simple life, with his only pleasures being “to eat, to smoke, to sleep, and to play upon his concertina” (2). McTeague also has the prevalent drunkard ethnic stereotype of Irish-Americans, which he inherits from his father who would become “an irresponsible animal, a beast, a brute, crazy with alcohol” (2), suggesting that McTeague may have been a “born criminal” and “tainted” (Pizer 28). Norris uses biological determinism with McTeague to suggest that his fate was already decided for him and that he was unable to escape it as much as he tried to fight it. McTeague is often described as being beastlike with animalistic attributes. When he performs dental work on Trina, “The animal in [McTeague] stirred and woke; the evil instincts that in him were so close to the surface leaped to life, shouting and clamoring” (30). Since animals are inferior to humans, McTeague is not portrayed as human, and therefore not able to gain anything significant in life, as much as he tries because his animal instinct always overcomes him. Since McTeague is like an animal, he has issues with self-control. Many times, McTeague tries to gain control of his...
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