Last updated: March 15, 2019
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Character Paper on Frank Norris’ McTeague

In discussing what characters should be used and for the argument of addressing the  theme and aspect of human nature as well the truth about the human condition, it was ideal to use only the major characters in Frank Norris’ book McTeague namely McTeague and Trina. However, it will be a help to note and realize that some of the minor characters also fit and have contributed into the presentation of the “human nature” as the book’s theme. Yet to further manifest comparison and difference of two characters in the book and what message one can  get from them, the argument will be concentrated to McTeague and his wife Trina.

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A greed-driven animal with teeth and who can bite no longer separated a man from an animal. This is what Norris put the main character’s life – that McTeague and Trina are driven by a power from within and an instinct that each are unable to control. Things can happen in  the lives of these unfortunate souls who took turns demonstrating their true views. Parallelism are evident in these two characters and enabled one’s greed, dominance, and subjection to decipher the core beasts that consume and butcher their lives. “There is enough in the world for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” (Frank Buchman). The ghost of each character tried to deter from the theme. Although each character were given a solitary description, they were both ironically driven by their appetite for riches, breaking the boundaries set by their social classes, showing each one to be paralleled in thoughts as one compelled by avarice.

The driving forces between the couple was the lottery winning by Trina of the five thousand dollars transfiguration. Because of the winning, Trina has ever yet made the most valuable steal. As he claimed her to be his own, excitement build and he unleashed his true sensations. Although McTeague and Trina were somehow separate, they were both driven by their greedy desires and compulsive needs. Trina was described as the innocent girl who has given herself to McTeague freely, unreserved and belonged to him forever and forever. (Norris, 135). Throughout the marriage, Norris revealed Trina’s need for submission and her indulgence to McTeague’s dominance over her. This was manifested when Trina revealed to McTeague that she is afraid of him and the idea of dominating her thrills him beyond belief. Norris however shed light on the inner workings of the human beast of McTeague, taking advantage of the “unconscious and helpless” Trina, “absolutely without defense,” and him, “without knowing why,” fighting against the beast, “moved by an unreasoned instinct of resistance” (22).

The daughter of German-Swiss immigrants, Trina is a delicate, attractive and sensible girl. She prides herself on being tidy and precise in her actions and appearance.  Just before McTeague and Trina decided to marry, the latter learned that she has won the five thousand dollars lottery. The prize turned out to be the cause of her emotional and psychological decline, as she refuse to spend any of it and became obsessed with scrimping and saving.

Trina was used of having a loving family and an adequate home but lived in a room above a kindergarten, alone and maimed when he married her brute of a husband. Unfortunately despite the dramatic change in her emotional state and physical appearance over the course of the novel’s twenty-two chapters, her lust for money never change.

The predominant theme throughout this book is the idea that one is not responsible for or capable of changing his or her own makeup. Trina showcased this character when she justified her miserly ways by saying she “can’t help it.”  McTeague adhered to the fact that his violent and drinking ways are due in part to his father’s passing those traits down to him. To justify their actions rather than having to face their flaws and potentially do something about them, often people use the nature or the “it’s in my nature” argument. This is certainly evident with McTeague and Trina. Neither wanted to change their ways, and each saw that it was easiest to dismiss their flaws out of hand and to attribute them to nature or, to use the scientific word of heredity. In Trina’s case, she would rather have nothing bad to say about the money and to claim that something bigger than her nature is at work and did not want to admit that the money may be the cause of the stinginess.

The character of Trina was described by the author as the development and result of a different type of pathological obsession with money. The environmental causes for her behavior are quite different yet Trina’s compulsive hoarding of money made her seem at least as greedy and unbalanced as the other female character named Maria. The convincing description of these environmental and hereditary factors was hard to imagine that Norris was simply trying to equate women with greed. The author described Trina’s way with money, which seems to be a virtue rather than a vice, as “economy” rather than “miserliness.” He immediately associated this trait with her heritage and unlike Maria, Trina avoided spending her money at all costs because she values the security of having money more than actually having any material possessions.

McTeague, on the other hand, was first portrayed as a gentle giant. A massive, slow-witted man with a blond mustache and enormously strong hands and an unlicensed dentist, McTeague sometimes pulls teeth with his bare hands. Eventually, he became a physically dominating character – he is a huge man, immensely strong, and could and later does forcefully bend Trina to his will without breaking a sweat.  Without a job, Mcteague’s bully and abusive character was pictured and Trina’s stinginess became a major source of friction in their marriage. Thereafter, McTeague became frustrated with his own impotence. Although Norris did seem somewhat prejudiced against women, as he generally characterized them as unstable and used terms like “high-strung feminine nerves,” he gave the readers another logical explanation for Trina’s saving compulsion – that Trina’s father, a man obsessed with military precision and control, has provided Trina with an excellent source on which to model her obsessive behavior. Her compulsive behavior led to a cycle of degeneration; her stinginess embittered her husband and made him more brutal, which in turn caused Trina to focus more and more on money. (Beckon, 2006)

The relationships between the characters in the story are strange. First, it seems that the first half of the story many of the characters come together. However, as the story ends, the friendships of the characters breaks down into violence and death. It seems the strong survive and the weak die. In this case the strong survive longer than the weak. The book showed the dangers of greed and how it can get the best of you as well how money can make you from a caring person into a evil person. Greed in the novel is one of the strongest point. Greed is a part of our life too, not just in the book. The story of McTeague showed many examples in which the physical description of the characters are used to show that the behavior of them is like animal instincts.

This story puts animal characteristics in the male characters of the story, especially McTeague. The beast in man takes over again. The characters in the novel are used to show that the behavior of them are connected to some hidden animal instinct. Norris linked the characters to animal instincts. He used many quotes to imply this. All of the characters wanted money and they did not know they wanted money until they were introduced to luxury. The greed from money made most of the characters into terrible human beings. Everyone was jealous of everybody else. McTeague was portrayed, in shocking detail, as nothing more than a brute animal at his core. Norris explored the greed and savage animalism that lurked inside McTeague. Despite its despicable protagonist, the novel is gripping  and is a powerful examination of characters pinned by fate.


Works Cited

Becon, Angela Viti. “McTeague’s Women in a Greedy World.” 16 February 2006. Gradesaver.    14 December 2007    <>.

Norris, Frank. McTeague. Washington DC: Beacham Publishing, Inc., 1994.