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The Octopus by Frank Norris
Although the novel “The Octopus” has numerous characters, it isevident that Presley is the main character from whom the story seemsto emanate. Presley is not an American by birth, but he stays withMr. and Mrs. Derrick as a friend. Despite his foreign origin, Presleyhas been described as having various virtues and a spirit of theAmerican people. His endeavors and ventures in the novel have madehim a unique American. In a bid to bring out the American spirit andvirtues in Presley, it is prudent to define who an American is. Inthis context, an American would be viewed as a person who resides inthe United States, was born there or raised there and also subscribesto the behaviors, cultures, as well as the spirit of the Americanpopulace.
One of the primary spirit that is known of the Americans is theirability to pursue their dreams and visions relentlessly. There is nocharacter in the novel who depicts this virtue more than Presley. Hehas a vision, which he seeks to fulfil each day of writing an epicbased on the American west. He is extremely enthusiastic about thepoem he desires to write and compares himself with ancient greatpoets such as Beowulf. This spirit of believing in the achievement ofa dream portrays Presley as uniquely American. His interest inwriting a poem about an American subject was a clear indication thathe was uniquely American who wanted to tell the story of his homelandin an artistic manner.
The railroad corporation has been described as a strong and powerfulcompany that enjoys the instruments of power. Although Presley wasinitially interested in writing a glowing poem about the Americanwest, he suddenly gets involved in the conflict between the wheatfarmers and Railroad Company (Norris 56). Presley changes his mindand stops writing about the ecstatic American west and resorts tohighlighting the plight of the farmers under the hands of RailroadCorporation. He ends up writing “The Toilers” (Starr 102). Thiswas a great piece which meant to voice the devastation that theranchers were going through in the hands of the railroad company.This incident portrays Presley uniquely as an American. Firstly,Presley is bold enough to stand up for justice. It is widely knownthat the Americans stand up for their own rights. Presley stood withthe oppressed people who were the farmers and aired their plight tothe rest of the world. This portrayed him even as a more royalAmerican than the Genslinger, the newspaper editor, who was warningthe ranchers against fighting with the railroad company (Parrington96).
Presley joined hands with the farmers in a bid to fight for theirrights and for justice. Although Presley never ended up composing theepic he envisioned about the American west, the work on thedevastation of the farmers was extremely impressive. His choice tostand with the farmers and to stand for justice portrayed him as atrue and patriotic American. This portrays him as a man who believedin justice and equal opportunity for everybody (Starr 65). Anothervirtue that Presley possesses is the belief in the freedom ofexpression. This is an American virtue that allows anybody to freelythemselves without fear of intimidation. His choice to write aboutthe plight of the farmers and the suffering they were going throughwas a bold step. It expressed his belief in the freedom of expressionjust as other Americans do believe. His brevity bore fruit since theissue on the plight of the farmers draw public interest.
At the beginning of the novel, Presley is riding a bicycle on thecountryside. Firstly, this is a common activity by a majority ofAmericans. On his tour of the Derrick’s ranch, Presley meets withvarious people in the midst of the bickering about the railroadsintention to repossess the ranches. What is surprising is thatPresley listened to everybody who wanted to talk to him. It is worthstating that Americans always offer a listening ear, as well as ahelping hand to their fellow countrymen or even stranded foreigners.He meets Hooven, Dyke, and Annixter (Norris 22). He patiently andkeenly listens to these people in an effort to understand theirplight. This is character that depicted him not only as an American,but as a typical and royal American.
Presley has a number of activities and behaviors that depict him asa typical American. Presley has been describe severally as takingwalks. This is an activity that is typical with majority of Americansespecially during the weekends after a week’s work. During the barndance organized by Annixter, Presley takes a walk with Vanamee in theafternoon (Parrington 141). This is typical characteristic and freetime activity of the Americans. According to the American culture,such walks are later followed by taking a cold beer with friends.This is exactly what Presley does, and therefore, qualifies to bedescribed as uniquely American. Presley and Vanamee stop over atDyke’s hop farm to take cold beer.
Although most Americans love privacy, it is also clear that they arefriendly and love interacting with people. Presley was a great friendto the Derrick’s and to Annixter. These were young ranchers whofought for their right fearlessly. Presley interacted with themfreely and shared his vision with the Derrick’s. His character offriendliness for love for other people is typical of the Americanspirit. He also embraced other people who were from different cultureand religious backgrounds. This showed his accommodative andappreciative nature that is characteristic of the Americans.Americans are known to be accommodative and loving. This is clearlyshown by the accommodative nature of the Derrick’s who allowedPresley to stay in their house as their friend as he embarks on hisproject.
Presley’s involvement in the entire conflict between the ranchersand the railroad company is baffling. It draws questions as to whyPresley would be interested in the conflict yet he does not own antranch. Although one may argue that his hosts, the Derrick’s, ownedranches, his involvement in the conflict seems farfetched (Starr 77).This is, however, one of the primary characteristics of the residentsof the United States. The spirit of brotherhood is imminent in theAmerican culture, and therefore Presley was justified to do the leasthe could to support the farmers.
The events of the entire novel unfold before the eyes of the littleknown poet-to-be at the beginning of the novel. Presley is describedas being on a long vacation in the United States. He was invited bythe Derricks, who are the largest ranch owners in the district. Thechoice by Presley to spend his long vacation in the United States isa clear indication that he has a soft heart for America (Parrington136). In other words, it indicates his love for America and itspeople. It is evident that Presley would have chosen other worlddestinations for his long vacation, but particularly chose the UnitedStates. His choice to stay in the United States makes him uniquelyAmerican.
Presley was ailing when he came to America. He viewed America as theonly country where he would regain his health. Presley is said tohave loved the dry air of San Joaquin which was convenient for hisconvalesce. This love for the American land and the trust he had forthe American health system, as well as the climate portray him asuniquely American in the entire novel.
In conclusion, it has clearly been seen that Presley was uniquelyAmerican. Ranging from his behaviors, activities to his spirit,Presley was largely an American. The zeal with which he sought towrite him poem to the steps he took in fighting for the rights of thefarmers portray him as a royal American. Presley believed in the ruleof law, as well in justice and freedom of expression. He wasexpressly involved in some of the free time activities that theAmericans do such as taking walks, drinking cold beer, as well asriding bicycles. It can, therefore, be conclusively argued that thenovel has brought out Presley uniquely as an American more than theother characters.
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Norris, Frank. TheOctopus: A Story of California. New York: Doubleday, Page &Co, 1903. Print.
Parrington, Vernon L. The Beginnings of Critical Realism inAmerica. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2013. Print
Starr, Kevin. Introduction: The Octopus. New York: VikingPenguin, Inc. 1986
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