Saleena Naturalism on One Character (Trina) Reaction Paper November 21, 2008 Although numerous evidences of naturalism are portrayed for nearly every main character in Frank Norris’ novel McTeague, Trina Sieppe is one character in whom the idea of naturalism is most effectively expressed through. Two aspects of naturalism that go hand in hand are the environment and heredity. Both of these aspects had deep influences on Trina and her actions and behavior toward money, her husband McTeague, and even Trina herself.
At the beginning of the novel, when Trina was introduced, Norris did not really hint at or foreshadow her excessive stinginess, which was expressed more towards the middle and end. Trina’s first introduction was simply as the cousin of Marcus, which really implied nothing about her character (13). However, upon the departure of Trina’s family after marrying McTeague, as well as after her winning of the lottery with a prize of five thousand dollars, her miserliness all of a sudden exploded as she attempted to make up the missing love of her family with the love of money.
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When Trina married McTeague, she was left in a vulnerable position, all alone. She even acknowledges her aloneness when she says, “…you must be good to me ??? for you’re all that I have in the world now” (142). Norris showed Trina’s stinginess was a result of genetics and heredity as he explained that “A good deal of peasant blood still ran undiluted in her veins, and she had all the instinct of a hardy and penurious mountain race ??? the instinct which saves without thought…saving for the sake of saving” (134).
Back in the 1890s, the time frame in which the novel took place, women were considered subservient to men on all levels. Whatever women owned, belonged entirely to their husbands. Trina, feeling defenseless and powerless upon marrying McTeague and homesick with the absence of her family, perhaps felt that she had lost control of her life completely. For this reason, Trina challenges the orthodox and expected deference that women were expected to comply to as she begins to assert and almost forcibly usurp control over McTeague.
She reverses the roles, taking advantage of McTeague’s “stupid” and “docile” nature (7). Trina’s dominance is expressed through McTeague’s change into a more civilized person who wore silk hats and drank bottled instead of steemed beer (148). Trina’s desire to have control is also hereditary, as her German father who was very precise with military control, exercised supreme power and authority over his family (121). As Trina moves down the social ladder, her environment changes, which greatly influences and changes her obsessive desire for orderliness and tidiness.
It also had a great influence on Trina’s physical appearance. During Trina and McTeague’s first year of marriage, the couple was relatively prosperous and well off, however, after McTeague suddenly loses his profession as a dentist, Trina lets herself and her principles/good ethics go. Norris also brings attention to Trina’s sudden downward transformation as he explains that “Trina was not quite so unscrupulously tidy now as in the old days [early days of marriage]” (223).
Due to her destitute environment, Trina had begun to lose her good looks and beauty. Norris sufficed for this occurrence when he said, “They became accustomed to their surroundings. Worst of all, Trina had lost her pretty ways and her good looks” (258). The two aspects of naturalism: environment and heredity go hand in hand because it is the combination of the two that truly affects Trina in the novel. Her inherited behavioral traits would have gone unnoticed if they had not been tested under the right circumstances (prosperity and poverty).
The same goes for the environment. Without her inherited genetics, the environment could not single-handedly influence Trina character too extremely. Naturalism was best expressed through the character of Trina because her family and their characteristics were revealed to the readers as opposed to the other characters to whom the concept of heredity and environment in the novel would not fit very well with.