Saturday, March 27, 2010

Justification of racism?

Reading Norris, I became more and more flustered. I want to try and look at his writing objectively, but I find the same ideas crossing my mind again and again. I just cannot look past both his base racism, and just how two-dimensional his characters really are. Essentially, all his characters are entirely defined by just a handful of trails, most of which reflect racial stereotypes of the day. Some are more obvious, such as Zerkov, who is repeatedly described as the one Jewish character and also as greedy, shallow, and murderous for gold. In fact, the only characters I found had the tiniest bit of depth were those who were never really give racial traits, or these traits were never emphasized, such as Old Grannis. Even Trina's family can be looked at as cardboard cutouts of stereotypes. We have the German man who has to act like he's still in the military, for example. I can't say much about her mother, because I found Norris's writing of her accent incomprehensible quite often.

McTeague is a rather interesting case in particular, because his racial background is never made entirely clear. We can speculate he is Irish possible because of his name, but it is hard to be entirely sure. Whoever, there is a family trait that defines him. He is a miner. It is all we are told of his father, and later in the book Norris makes it clear that he views mining and dentistry in very similar lights in how the professions work. Furthermore, there is an emphasis on how his work involves either dealing with precious metals, drilling, or (after his marriage to Trina) hunting after gold that is hidden to him in some way. What is most troubling to me about this is it suggests that family profession is a manner of hereditary trait. If your father worked metals, than you are a metal worker by blood. To be honest, I would not be surprised if Norris would have supported a strict caste system. I know we are reading this book because it is supposed to be a notable example of 19th century literature, but that saddens me a bit because of what it means about acceptable viewpoints at the time.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, these were "scientific" viewpoints of the time. The mining/dentistry link is one that we will need to talk about on Tuesday.