In the first chapter, Norris paints a picture of a town setting. He describes Polk Street as
"one of those cross streets peculiar to Western cities, situated in the heart of the residence quarter, but occupied by small trades people who lived in the rooms above their shops. There were corner drug stores with huge jars of red, yellow and green liquids in their windows, very brave and gay; stationers' stores, where illustrated weeklies were tacked upon bulletin boards; barber shops with cigar stands in their vestibules; sad-looking plumbers; offices; cheap restaurants, in whose windows one saw piles of unopened oysters weighted down by cubes of ice, and china pigs and cows knee deep in layers of white beans."
In this paragraph, the reader gets a visual image of a town during the 19th century. Cozy, quaint and rather poor, this town exists as an example of any other town at this time. Also, in setting the activities of the time period, Norris describes the morning ritual on Polk Street to display the stratification of the classes. He writes:
" The laborers went trudging past in a straggling file- plumber's apprentices, their pockets stuffed with sections of lead pipe, tweezers, and pliers; carpenters, carrying nothing but their little pasteboard lunch baskets painted to imitate leather; gangs of street workers, their overalls soiled with yellow clay, their picks and long-handled shovels...