McTeague & Jurgis: Puppets of Circumstance

Artem’s Outline for short paper

Topic: McTeague & Jurgis: Puppets of Circumstance

Organizing thoughts: Neither McTeague nor The Jungle is a story about its characters alone. Each tells a story foremost about its setting, the city itself, and only afterward about the lives being shuffled in its bosom*. McTeague and Jurgis find themselves entangled in a demoralizing uphill battle against elements beyond their control, pit up against nature and society represented by Chicago and San Francisco, respectively.

*Perhaps not the best word choice here. I’m trying to say something like “within its borders” but in a more illustrative manner. Suggestions welcome

  • Both men are emphasized as being large and fit; by the end of the novels, they find themselves at the mercy of society, hunger and thirst
  • Both men pit themselves against the elements weighing down upon them
    • In the case of McTeague, his catchphrase “You can’t make small of me” (p. 75 (x3), p. 219, p. 234) suggests two important points:
      • 1) Unlike Jurgis, McTeague is established, holds his life to a certain standard, has dreams of excess (i.e. a giant gold tooth for a sign), and is used to placing some value to his name.
      • 2) McTeague is more directly pit against others’ opinions of him. “YOU can’t make small…” establishes a man vs. man/ man vs. society focus, especially in the context of its use, relating to matters of financial ability
    • Jurgis is associated with the phrase “I will work harder” (p. 25 (x2), p. 26, p. 87)
      • 1) The conflict here seems to be man vs. society; Jurgis needs to work to support his family
      • 2) Jurgis is constantly chasing his tail to make ends meet; He seems to always be in need of money; when he has it, he doesn’t think twice about spending it

Some defining circumstances:


  • San Francisco is a city obsessed with gold
    • When Trina wins the lottery, greed enters their lives; She reflects on her stinginess (p.164-165); McTeague calls her a miser (p. 219)
    • McTeague kills his wife over her gold coins that she wouldn’t share with him
  • McTeague became a dentist by chance when his mother sent him out of the Big Dipper mine with a traveling dentist/charlatan
    • This ends up leading to the demise of his career since he must cease practicing dentistry, lacking a dental degree
  • At the most basic level, McTeague’s friendship with Marcus leads to his demise (not entirely sure how this relates directly to his relationship with San Francisco)
    • Marcus introduces McTeague to Trina; Trina buys the lotto ticket herself because Marcus didn’t have the money on his person
  • When McTeague runs away after murdering Trina, he’s taken down by the elements; Death valley kills him even as Marcus could not

The Jungle:

  • Jurgis and his family are immigrants, and thus they are easily taken advantage of by more established Americans who understand the system; “working harder” won’t cut it to make ends meet
    • Immigration agents in New York
    • Wedding; Failure of young people to adhere to Lithuanian tradition to give money to the bride
    • Purchasing the house; “renting” ; the interest they couldn’t afford
    • Old Antanas having to give up a third of his salary in exchange for a job
  • Working conditions and the harsh winter kill off Jurgis’s family one by one
    • Corruption in Chicago stockyards
      • “Jurgis would find out…nobody rose in Packingtown by doing good work.” (p. 74)
    • The political movements that Jurgis gets involved with make him a pawn of the syst
      • Even though he had joined the Democratic Party, he votes Republican for Scotty Doyle and lobbies for Republican votes in exchange for a sum of money



Artem:  “Cities as Protagonists” is a great topic.  From your outline, I can see a tightly focused, tightly argued essay mapping the power of San Francisco and Chicago by way of the two phrases closely associated with the human protagonists.  In the case of  McTeague, the phrase, “You can’t make small of me” is proven wrong again and again by San Francisco, from the mockery of the clerk at the box office to the letter from City Hall putting an end to his dental practice, to the ability of the sheriffs and his boarding-house friend, Marcus, to hunt him down.   In the case of Jurgis, the phrase “I can work harder” is likewise proven wrong again and again by Chicago: by the assembly lines at the stockyards, its fraudulent home ownership, and the collusion between the judiciary system and the Democratic machine.  There’s no escape from the city, a fate shared by McTeague and Jurgis.            –wd


Hey Artem!

I enjoyed your outline. Both McTeague and Jurgis are puppets of the cities in which they live.  I’m excited to see you ground the ideas in the language of the text. How do Norris and Sinclair make it clear that these are men without agency? Is it clear in the way that the third person narrative takes over for McTeague’s stupidity and each man falls into nearly a cyclical feeling of horrible circumstances? Sinclair becomes a pawn of the political system. Does he still lose agency when he joins the socialist party? At that point is he still a puppet? It is clear how much of a cog he is in the democratic and republican parties. But does he break the cycle with the socialists?  I am also interested in how you are going to map out the relationship between McTeague and Marcus as representative of the relationship between McTeague and the city. Hoe does the death scene in the dessert still connect back to the puppetry of San Francisco? How does the relationship of the city extend even when he is outside of it? I love that you are focusing in on the two memorable sentences spoken by both McTeague and Jurgis. Looks like an exciting essay ahead! Good luck.

-Stephanie Rogers

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