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Course Handout # 2

Read carefully, highlight and annotate. Use the information in Lecture 2.

READING LIST:
William Dean Howells, The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885)
Frank Norris, The Octopus (1901)/ Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (1906);
Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (1900) / Jack Londons Call of the Wild (1903)
Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt (1922) / Willa Cather, O Pioneers! (1913) / My ntonia
(1918)

William Dean Howells, The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885)

1 He [Silas Lapham] knew who the Coreys were very well, and, in his simple, brutal
way, he had long hated their name as a symbol of splendour which, unless he
should live to see at least three generations of his descendants gilded with
mineral paint, he could not hope to realise in his own. He was acquainted in a
business way with the tradition of old Phillips Corey, and he had heard a great
many things about the Corey who had spent his youth abroad and his father's
money everywhere, and done nothing but say smart things. Lapham could not
see the smartness of some of them which had been repeated to him. Once he
had encountered the fellow, and it seemed to Lapham that the tall, slim, white-
moustached man, with the slight stoop, was everything that was offensively
aristocratic.

2 Miss Kingsbury leaned forward and asked Charles Bellingham if he had read
Tears, Idle Tears, the novel that was making such a sensation; and when he said
no, she said she wondered at him. "It's perfectly heart-breaking, as you'll
imagine from the name; but there's such a dear old-fashioned hero and heroine
in it, who keep dying for each other all the way through, and making the most
wildly satisfactory and unnecessary sacrifices for each other. You feel as if you'd
done them yourself." "Yes," said Mr. Sewell, the minister. "And I don't think there
ever was a time when they formed the whole intellectual experience of more
people. They do greater mischief than ever."
"Don't be envious, parson," said the host. "No," answered Sewell. "I should be
glad of their help. But those novels with old-fashioned heroes and heroines in
them--excuse me, Miss Kingsbury--are ruinous!"
"Don't you feel like a moral wreck, Miss Kingsbury?"asked the host.
But Sewell went on: "The novelists might be the greatest possible help to us if
they painted life as it is,and human feelings in their true proportion and relation,
but for the most part they have been and are altogether noxious."
This seemed sense to Lapham; but Bromfield Corey asked: "But what if life as it
is isn't amusing? Aren't we to be amused?"
"Not to our hurt," sturdily answered the minister. "And the self-sacrifice painted in
most novels like this----"
"Slop, Silly Slop?" suggested the proud father of the inventor of the phrase.
"Yes--is nothing but psychical suicide, and is as wholly immoral as the spectacle
of a man falling upon his sword." ()"Commonplace? The commonplace is just
that light, impalpable, aerial essence which they've never got into their confounded
books yet. The novelist who could interpret the common feelings of commonplace
people would have the answer to 'the riddle of the painful earth' on his tongue."

Frank Norris, The Octopus (1901)

3 "The great poem of the West. It's that which I want to write. Oh, to put it all into
hexameters; strike the great iron note; sing the vast, terrible song; the song of
the People; the forerunners of empire!" Vanamee understood him perfectly. He
nodded gravely. "Yes, it is there. It is Life, the primitive, simple, direct Life,
passionate, tumultuous. Yes, there is an epic there." Presley caught at the word.
It had never before occurred to him. "Epic, yes, that's it. It is the epic I'm
searching for. And HOW I search for it. You don't know. It is sometimes almost
an agony. Often and often I can feel it right there, there, at my finger-tips, but I
never quite catch it. It always eludes me. I was born too late. Ah, to get back to
that first clear-eyed view of things, to see as Homer saw, as Beowulf saw, as the
Nibelungen poets saw. The life is here, the same as then; the Poem is here; my
West is here; the primeval, epic life is here, here under our hands, in the desert,
in the mountain, on the ranch, all over here, from Winnipeg to Guadalupe. It is
the man who is lacking, the poet; we have been educated away from it all. We
are out of touch. We are out of tune."

4 Believe this, young man," exclaimed Shelgrim, laying a thick powerful forefinger
on the table to emphasise his words, "try to believe this--to begin with--THAT
RAILROADS BUILD THEMSELVES. Where there is a demand sooner or later there
will be a supply. Mr. Derrick, does he grow his wheat? The Wheat grows itself.
What does he count for? Does he supply the force? What do I count for? Do I
build the Railroad? You are dealing with forces, young man, when you speak of
Wheat and the Railroads, not with men. There is the Wheat, the supply. It must
be carried to feed the People. There is the demand. The Wheat is one force, the
Railroad, another, and there is the law that governs them--supply and demand.
Men have only little to do in the whole business. Complications may arise,
conditions that bear hard on the individual--crush him maybe--BUT THE WHEAT
WILL BE CARRIED TO FEED THE PEOPLE as inevitably as it will grow. If you want
to fasten the blame of the affair at Los Muertos on any one person, you will make
a mistake. Blame conditions, not men."

Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (1906)

5 The ruler of the district was therefore the Democratic boss, a little Irishman
named Mike Scully. Scully held an important party office in the state, and bossed
even the mayor of the city, it was said; it was his boast that he carried the
stockyards in his pocket. He was an enormously rich man--he had a hand in all
the big graft in the neighborhood. It was Scully, for instance, who owned that
dump which Jurgis and Ona had seen the first day of their arrival. Not only did
he own the dump, but he owned the brick factory as well, and first he took out
the clay and made it into bricks, and then he had the city bring garbage to fill up
the hole, so that he could build houses to sell to the people. Then, too, he sold
the bricks to the city, at his own price, and the city came and got them in its own
wagons. And also he owned the other hole nearby, where the stagnant water
was; and it was he who cut the ice and sold it; and what was more, if the men
told truth, he had not had to pay any taxes for the water, and he had built the
icehouse out of city lumber, and had not had to pay anything for that. The
newspapers had got hold of that story, and there had been a scandal; but Scully
had hired somebody to confess and take all the blame, and then skip the
country. It was said, too, that he had built his brick-kiln in the same way, and
that the workmen were on the city payroll while they did it; however, one had to
press closely to get these things out of the men, for it was not their business,
and Mike Scully was a good man to stand in with. A note signed by him was
equal to a job any time at the packing houses; and also he employed a good
many men himself, and worked them only eight hours a day, and paid them the
highest wages. This gave him many friends--all of whom he had gotten together
into the "War Whoop League," whose clubhouse you might see just outside of
the yards. It was the biggest clubhouse, and the biggest club, in all Chicago; and
they had prizefights every now and then, and cockfights and even dogfights.
The policemen in the district all belonged to the league, and instead of
suppressing the fights, they sold tickets for them.

Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (1900)

Among the forces which sweep and play throughout the universe, untutored man
is but a wisp in the wind. Our civilisation is still in a middle stage, scarcely beast,
in that it is no longer wholly guided by instinct; scarcely human, in that it is not
yet wholly guided by reason. On the tiger no responsibility rests. We see him
aligned by nature with the forces of life--he is born into their keeping and without
thought he is protected. We see man far removed from the lairs of the jungles,
his innate instincts dulled by too near an approach to free-will, his free-will not
sufficiently developed to replace his instincts and afford him perfect guidance.
He is becoming too wise to hearken always to instincts and desires; he is still too
weak to always prevail against them. As a beast, the forces of life aligned him
with them; as a man, he has not yet wholly learned to align himself with the
forces. In this intermediate stage he wavers--neither drawn in harmony with
nature by his instincts nor yet wisely putting himself into harmony by his own
free-will. He is even as a wisp in the wind, moved by every breath of passion,
acting now by his will and now by his instincts, erring with one, only to retrieve
by the other, falling by one, only to rise by the other--a creature of incalculable
variability.

Jack Londons Call of the Wild (1903)

6 He [Buck] was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken. He saw, once for
all, that he stood no chance against a man with a club. He had learned the
lesson, and in all his after life he never forgot it. That club was a revelation. It
was his introduction to the reign of primitive law, and he met the introduction
halfway. The facts of life took on a fiercer aspect; and while he faced that aspect
uncowed, he faced it with all the latent cunning of his nature aroused. As the
days went by, other dogs came, in crates and at the ends of ropes, some
docilely, and some raging and roaring as he had come; and, one and all, he
watched them pass under the dominion of the man in the red sweater. Again
and again, as he looked at each brutal performance, the lesson was driven home
to Buck: a man with a club was a lawgiver, a master to be obeyed, though not
necessarily conciliated. Of this last Buck was never guilty, though he did see
beaten dogs that fawned upon the man, and wagged their tails, and licked his
hand. Also he saw one dog, that would neither conciliate nor obey, finally killed
in the struggle for mastery.

7 He [Buck] was not homesick. The Sunland was very dim and distant, and such
memories had no power over him. Far more potent were the memories of his
heredity that gave things he had never seen before a seeming familiarity; the
instincts (which were but the memories of his ancestors become habits) which
had lapsed in later days, and still later, in him, quickened and become alive
again. Sometimes as he crouched there, blinking dreamily at the flames, it
seemed that the flames were of another fire, and that as he crouched by this
other fire he saw another and different man from the half-breed cook before him.
This other man was shorter of leg and longer of arm, with muscles that were
stringy and knotty rather than rounded and swelling. The hair of this man was
long and matted, and his head slanted back under it from the eyes. He uttered
strange sounds, and seemed very much afraid of the darkness, into which he
peered continually, clutching in his hand, which hung midway between knee and
foot, a stick with a heavy stone made fast to the end. He was all but naked, a
ragged and fire-scorched skin hanging part way down his back, but on his body
there was much hair. In some places, across the chest and shoulders and down
the outside of the arms and thighs, it was matted into almost a thick fur. He did
not stand erect, but with trunk inclined forward from the hips, on legs that bent
at the knees. About his body there was a peculiar springiness, or resiliency,
almost catlike, and a quick alertness as of one who lived in perpetual fear of
things seen and unseen. At other times this hairy man squatted by the fire with
head between his legs and slept. On such occasions his elbows were on his
knees, his hands clasped above his head as though to shed rain by the hairy
arms. And beyond that fire, in the circling darkness, Buck could see many
gleaming coals, two by two, always two by two, which he knew to be the eyes of
great beasts of prey. And he could hear the crashing of their bodies through the
undergrowth, and the noises they made in the night.

Willa Cather, O Pioneers! (1913)

8 One January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a
windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away. A mist of fine
snowflakes was curling and eddying about thecluster of low drab buildings
huddled on the gray prairie, under a gray sky. The dwelling-houses were set
about haphazard on the tough prairie sod; some of them looked as if they had
been moved in overnight, and others as if they were straying off by themselves,
headed straight for the open plain. None of them had any appearance of
permanence, and the howling wind blew under them as well as over them. The
main street was a deeply rutted road, now frozen hard, which ran from the squat
red railway station and the grain "elevator" at the north end of the town to the
lumber yard and the horse pond at the south end. On either side of this road
straggled two uneven rows of wooden buildings; the general merchandise stores,
the two banks, the drug store, the feed store, the saloon, the post-office. The
board sidewalks were gray with trampled snow, but at two o'clock in the
afternoon the shopkeepers, having come back from dinner, were keeping well
behind their frosty windows. The children were all in school, and there was
nobody abroad in the streets but a few rough-looking countrymen in coarse
overcoats, with their long caps pulled down to their noses. Some of them had
brought their wives to town, and now and then a red or a plaid shawl flashed out
of one store into the shelter of another. At the hitch-bars along the street a few
heavy work-horses, harnessed to farm wagons, shivered under their blankets.
About the station everything was quiet, for there would not be another train in
until night.

Willa Cather, My ntonia (1918)

9 LAST summer I happened to be crossing the plains of Iowa in a season of intense


heat, and it was my good fortune to have for a traveling companion James
Quayle Burden--Jim Burden, as we still call him in the West. He and I are old
friends--we grew up together in the same Nebraska town--and we had much to
say to each other. While the train flashed through never-ending miles of ripe
wheat, by country towns and bright-flowered pastures and oak groves wilting in
the sun, we sat in the observation car, where the woodwork was hot to the touch
and red dust lay deep over everything. The dust and heat, the burning wind,
reminded us of many things. We were talking about what it is like to spend one's
childhood in little towns like these, buried in wheat and corn, under stimulating
extremes of climate: burning summers when the world lies green and billowy
beneath a brilliant sky, when one is fairly stifled in vegetation, in the color and
smell of strong weeds and heavy harvests; blustery winters with little snow,
when the whole country is stripped bare and gray as sheet-iron. We agreed that
no one who had not grown up in a little prairie town could know anything about
it. It was a kind of freemasonry, we said.