Monday, October 8, 2007


With any great work of fiction--especially one created by an artist invested in style--we can begin looking at the opening paragraphs to judge how the book wants to be read:

It was Sunday, and, according to his custom on that day....

What stylistic features about this intro might we want to point out?

& Why does the story begin on Sunday?


m said...

Even from the opening paragraph I feel like we can draw a few essential things from Norris. From the first lines we can immediately get a characterization of McTeague, who of course is central to this text, and we can get grasp on Norris’ writing style. I’m also inclined to think we may get some foreshadowing from the opening lines that may tie into our study of the Dionysian and Apollonian / modernity and the primitive.

First we can examine the characterization of McTeague. We are told immediately that he has “his custom” for Sundays and that custom involves eating at a very specific time (2:00) at a very specific place (the car conductors’ coffee joint on Polk Street). He also has the “habit” of buying a pitcher of beer on the way back to his office and leaving it there. All this immediate talk of habits and customs characterizes McTeague as a man who not only has, but seems to need order in his life. We see also however that these habits are not complex or lavish – they are simply dinner and beer at unimpressive locations. So now we already know that McTeague is a simple man who needs order. From this we may (or may not) be already able to infer that he is this way, because he is not the sharpest intellectually, nor the most well-off, nor the man with the highest goals in life. Even if we can’t infer these last qualities right from the intro, we are still able to grasp the protagonist’s fundamental characteristics form the opening lines alone.

Yet there is still more we can learn about McTeague - his physical appearance specifically. We come to get an image of him simply from the description of food that he eats. Norris has him eating “thick gray soup” “heavy underdone meat” and pudding “full of strong butter and sugar.” Norris’ word choice of “thick”, “heavy” and “full” along with “soup” “meat” and “pudding” causes us to get the image of McTeague as a huge guy who may resemble a sort of lumberjack or oaf. Neither of those two depictions are far off the mark.

Aside from McTeague, it is easy to see Norris’ writing style from the opening paragraph. He writes clearly, in what we now see as standard English, at the level a man like McTeague himself could probably understand. This text will not be as difficult to read at least on the surface as “The Goophered Grapevine” because the language is what we are accustomed too. It also appears that we won’t need a dictionary by our side to read this text – this is not written in high diction.

Finally, because we can gather that McTeague is a simple man with customs and habits who seems reasonably comfortable with his simple life – my guess would be that something will come along that will disrupt his comfort. I have nothing to base this on other than the patterns of plots in other texts. But if my assumption is correct – this opening paragraph, by establishing the comfort and simplicity of McTeague’s life, foreshadows a disruption to come. From this potential foreshadowing, we can already see possible ties to Niche and the Primitive Modern. McTeague appears to be living in an Apollonian world where things are simple but dull. His Sunday routine is to go get dinner at a coffee joint. It will be interesting to see if something Dionysian strikes him – and how it responds to it.

m said...

Andre Ranadive

The author depicts the simplistic and comforting lifestyle of McTeague in the first couple paragraphs of the story. The novel begins on a sunday so that Norris can show just how much basic, mundane routine is involved in McTeague's life. In his summary of McTeague's life, Norris says of his father: "For thirteen days of each fortnight his father was a steady, hard-working shift-boss of the mine. Every other Sunday he became an irresponsible animal, a beast, a brute." This shed's light on McTeague's animalistic behavior towards Trina, and it is apparent that McTeague has the same rage and "craziness" in him as his father. He fights this inner beast when Trina is passed out on his operating table.

m said...

The First comment that appears on this thread that begins: "Even from the opening paragraph..." was posted by me, Matt Stevens.