Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Beat Within

Naturalism is one of the most prevalent themes within the book McTeague. Norris utilizes the idea that every human contains a beast within themselves and that the beast is repressed by the desires to do right by social standards and beliefs. The “beast within” that is a part of human nature is fist introduced in chapter one when Norris describes McTeagues father. “Every other Sunday he became an irresponsible animal, a beast, a brute, crazy with alcohol” (5). This beast is a “hereditary evil” that passes the “sins of his father and of his father’s father, to the third and fourth and five hundredth generation” and McTeague was a product of this naturalistic curse (22). Alcohol immediately becomes the means to which the beast is released and the pattern is repeated by McTeague himself later in the book when his brutish, abusive behavior is unleashed after he decides to consume whiskey. The beast within McTeague is not first awakened by alcohol but by a woman, Trina. While working on her teeth “the male virile desire in him tardily awakened, aroused itself, strong and brutal. It was resistless, untrained, a thing not to be held in leash an instant” (19). Norris describes this as an “old battle, old as the world, wide as the world- the sudden panther leap of the animal, lips drawn, fangs aflash, hideous, monstrous not to be resisted” (21). This animal –like arousal is a part of human nature and everyone contains the beast within. The “old battle” he speaks of is the continual attempt to repress and subdue its vicious attempts to overcome your moral judgment. This natural beast is also unveiled in Trina by the obsessive hording of her money. Her thrifty Swiss heritage cannot be repressed when it comes to saving money and her animal –like instincts take over. She becomes possessed by the greed and she pushes everyone she loves away with her incessant miserly desires. She becomes a ruined woman and meets her death because of her inability to master or repress the beast within.


  1. One thing I thought was interesting is that, unlike stinginess and greed and whatnot, alcoholism actually is a "hereditary evil." If a parent is an alcoholic, that the child's chances of being an alcoholic are tripled.

  2. You're right about the importance of the "beast within," Amanda, and the different forms that it takes. Even a "good fault," as Trina calls it, apparently can't be controlled.

  3. I found the beast within to be a very interesting part of this book. I also found it interesting how the drinks really helped this beast show