The stratification of the society in this society was illustrated by Norris using the concept of Social Darwinism. Social Darwinism is an extension of biological evolution to human social systems. Theorists, such as Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), proposed and popularized much of what we now know as “Social Darwinism.” Social Darwinists use evolution to explain existing social and economic stratification among groups and among nations.
Stephen T. Asma, a Darwinists, states that society:
“At the domestic level, we convince ourselves that the poor are hopeless failures in the natural capitalist “survival” game. The crucial point to be understood in social Darwinism is that the poor and homeless classes represent a biologically or inherently inferior group of individuals. Spencer used this principle—where competition for limited resources results in the survival of the inherently “better” candidate–to explain past, present, and future social conditions. We know that they are inferior because they have “lost” the struggle. Americans have become convinced that sympathy for the less fortunate represents a blemish on the competitive spirit that made this country great. The underprivileged are turned against the impoverished.” (Asma, 97)
At the beginning of the novel, Norris explained how the people of different classes were active at different times of the day, he also describeed where these people lived. First the day laborers woke and went off to work at about seven o’clock. Next, the conductors and swing men of the cable car company went to work. At this time the night workers went home to sleep for the next night’s work. Then it was policemen, Chinese gardeners, shopkeepers and then the shopgirls, all had their time to make their way through the streets.
“At the same time the school children invaded the street, filling the air with a clamor of shrill voices, stopping at the stationer’s shops or idling a moment in the doorways of the candy store.” (Norris, 9)
“Toward eleven o’clock the ladies from the great avenue a block above Polk Street made their appearance, promenading the sidewalks leisurely, deliberately.” (Norris, 9)
Through all these descriptions Norris suggested that all these people had their place and they knew it. Not until noon were the streets mixed with all these people. Also Norris remarked that the “ladies from the great avenue a block above Polk Street…” (Norris, 11), here he suggested that the people have levels of their society and that the people who lived above Polk Street were above those who lived on Polk Street — Polk Street being of the working class.
Later in the story, when McTeague was not married to Trina he was living just as he thought he should. He lived at a comfortable level for himself. But when Trina married him, she brought her views on living into their marriage. Trina moved McTeague up somewhat on a social scale. He left his old habits for more expensive habits. He stopped drinking steam beer and replaced it with bottled beer which was more expensive.
With Trina’s lottery winnings they could have moved up the social ladder, but Trina refused to spend her winnings on anything. Since Trina did not want to spend this money and McTeague lost his job, they could not live at their previous standard. Without McTeague’s job they could not sustain their level in society, so they again moved down. Also when Trina lost her fingers, she moved down again.
At the end of the story, after McTeague killed Trina for her money, he was chased by a pose and Marcus. Marcus finally caught him at Death Valley. They fought and McTeague killed Marcus, but not before Marcus got him into handcuffs. In this last chase Marcus wanted McTeague more for the money than for the honor of life of Trina. This situation is so similar to that when two animals fight each other for one piece of food. The winner gets the food, but too weak to eat it.
In conclusion, Norris showed exactly how social Darwinism works in a society by using the movement of McTeague, The McTeagues, and Trina through their society. The rule of Darwinism, the fittest lives, applied well to the phenomena in the society.
Asma , Stephen T. Human And Society. 2nd Edition. New York: Osborne, 1987.
Norris, Frank. McTeague. New York. Penguin Group, 1964.