The Octopus: A Story Of California Essay Samples

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: America, United States, Literature, Company, Patriotism, California, Railroad, Octopus

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/12/28

“The Octopus: A Story of California” is a book by Frank Norris first published in 1901 that presents modern lovers of literature with a description of the events taking place at a very important time in America’s history. This is a time when the state of California was full of promise and vigor and many people across the nation and indeed across the world were making their way into the state. Agricultural abundance characterized the state although there was the presence of a lot of greed from some members of the community as well as the presence of laws that mainly served the interests of the wealthy often ignoring the poor. The setting of this novel is the San Joaquin Valley, where wheat farmers who had labored hard to plant and harvest crops wanted to send them to the market in order to make an appropriate profit but were often harassed by the relatively high prices set forth by the giant railroad company in the region (which is actually the one that is referred to by Norris as the octopus). This novel by Norris was one of the few works of literature in a new literature movement that aimed at promoting American naturalism. Most of the other novels published previously had been overly romanticized but this new literary movement wanted to depict the real life of Americans together with the harsh realities that they often hard to contend with. Therefore, even in this novel, a lot of the characters espouse unique American characteristics and values. One of these characters is Presley.
Presley is an individual who is in search of a plot and who surveys keenly the ongoing clashes between the railroad company and the farmers. He cycles through the land and meets various farmers and encounter some of the dilemmas and harsh realities that characterize their lives. As the story continues, Presley comes across as unique American. It emerges that Norris has molded this character to espouse features and characteristics that are uniquely American.
First of all, he has a great American dream or vision. He is a man with an artistic temperament and who also has quite a sensitive demeanor. He is focused on writing a great literature piece on a subject related to America, and this is California or the American West. He is uniquely American as he is inspired by the things that are American. Like many Americans, he also has dreams of making it big once he publishes this epic piece of literature about the beauty of the American West. This is a common thought adopted by many Americans who hold the view that it only takes is one major breakthrough for all the doors to success to be opened. In fact, many Americans spend a significant chunk of their lives looking for this one break that will open up their doors. In the case of Presley, it is clear that he is uniquely American because not only is he looking for a big break, he is actually inspired by something that is truly American, and this is the American West, specifically the state of California.
Americans are notoriously patriotic of their country, and this is one of the traits that Presley exhibits once again proving that he is uniquely American. Americans are always looking forward to defending their country and drawing inspiration from its vast wealth and resources. As mentioned earlier Presley is greatly inspired by the West. Although he doubts himself about his ability to write a masterpiece, the inspiration that the West gives him is however not in doubt. It is clear that he is an American writer inspired by American things. He acknowledges that the great beauty of the American West cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Presley is also patriotic in that he aspires to write a book that will put his nation on the global literature map. He makes reference to such classic Greek tales as Beowulf. He wants to create or wrote such a phenomenal work of literature, and add an Americana touch to it. This will put America in the same light that previous classic novels by Greek writers put Greece on the map. He dreams of creating a poem that can effectively compete and alongside the greats such as Beowulf. However, a seen, it is the great patriotism that plays a huge role in Presley’s desire to write on an American topic. He views the actions of the people in California especially in regard to their battle with the railroad as something that is heroic and grand, and that should be represented in a piece of literature. This is the only way that the heroism of the American people can be known. This is why he is so adamant about writing on subject that will exhibit the image of California to the world. Americans are generally proud of the achievements of their countrymen, and many are always willing to show them to rest of the world. This is one of the elements of the unique American patriotism. Presley greatly espouses this characteristic in that he want to write about his admiration of the Americans of the West to the world as a way of showing his patriotism.
As seen, situation at hand prevents Presley from composing the epic that he had envisioned. He had hoped to praise the American West as a sense of his patriotism. His time at the West exposes him to harsh realities that accompany the seemingly beautiful region. Presley finds himself caught up in the bitter struggle and fight between the farmers and the oppressive railroad companies. In spite of this, his unique American characteristic still shines through. As it was mentioned earlier. Americans are usually keen to support their fellow citizens when they are being oppressed, for example, by big corporations.
This is exactly what happens with Presley. He is forced to shelve the plans that he had for writing a great American epic and instead writes about the oppression of the people in the West in a poem that he names “The Toilers”. In this poem, he explores the great devastation that the farmers of wheat in Californian have been subjected to by the railroad company in their attempt to take their produce to the marketplace.
There is no doubt that when coming the novel, Norris fully intended to depict Presley as a uniquely American individual who is not only proud and patriotic of his country and its resources, but who can also be a model for other society members.
The late 19th Century and the early 19th Century was characterized by a lot of clashes between ordinary Americans and many of the big corporations of the time. A lot of the big corporations were hell bent on exploiting the normal citizens on almost every bit of their livelihood.
In fact, another classic scenario that almost resembles the conflict between the wheat farmers and the railroad company in California is the conflict between mining companies and miners in West Virginia where once again, the mining companies sought to exploit the miners by not only paying them poorly but also exploiting them of the little amount paid to them. For example, miners were required to stay in houses owned by the mining companies where rents were high, and we also forced to buy from shops owned by these mining companies.
This is the same situation with “The Octopus” and this particular story, Norris choses Presley to be the voice and representation of the average Americans, and depict the harsh realities that these Americans were going through at the hands of the big corporations. In order to do this, this particular character had to espouse the characteristics and traits of a unique American, and this is what author did with Presley.


It is clear that in the book, ‘The Octopus’ by Frank Norris, the main character, Presley is a unique American and indeed exhibits the values of a unique American. From the onset, he emerges as an individual with a unique American dream and vision which is to write about the great beauty that his country has been endowed with. In this sense, he is patriotic, which is actually a trait that is common with many Americas. However, his plans are thwarted when he comes face to face with realities that face the people in the American West and being unique American, he subscribes to their course and ends up writing a poem titled “The Toilers”, which is representational of the troubles that his fellow Americans are subjected to by the big corporation that is the railroad company.

Works Cited

Norris, Frank. The Octopus: A Story of California. New York: Doubleday, Page & Co, 1901. Print.

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