Year of Graduation
American author Frank Norris declared in his 1902 essay, Responsibilities of the Novelist, that the writer owed it to the reader to provide him with truth in his storytelling. To quote, “It is not right that they be exploited with false views of life, false characters, false sentiment, false morality, false history…” Yet, only three years earlier Norris published his novel, McTeague: The Story of San Francisco, in which he portrayed characters of various ethnicities as falsely as could be imagined. The characters were written as exaggerated caricatures, defective human beings of lesser races. This essay examines what influences pressed upon Norris to write such an untruthful novel. Research reveals the prevailing attitudes of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants toward immigrants in America from the mid-1800s to the end of the century, as well as personal and other societal influences on the author. The prejudiced attitudes toward people of other ethnicities are juxtaposed with documented, historical truths about the lives of the Irish, Mexicans and Jews who immigrated to the United States, the communities they built and the significant contributions they made to the betterment of the American way of life. As Frank Norris matured, fortunately his world view changed and he came to realize that dividing people by race or ethnicity only detracted from the good of the country. As he wrote in another essay in 1902, “…the whole world is our nation and simple humanity our countrymen.”
Payne, Carolyn, "Lack of Truth in Fiction: Frank Norris's McTeague" (2019). MALS Final Essays. 35.