You are strongly encouraged to come up with your own topics. In case you’re stuck, here are some prompts:
— One would have imagined McTeague to be about its eponymous protagonist. Why is its subtitle “A Story of San Francisco”? To what extent is San Francisco a protagonist in this novel, as Chicago is in The Jungle, or New York in The Age of Innocence?
— Polk Street and Fifth Avenue are not just casual street names. They are social microcosms for Frank Norris and Edith Wharton. Why do streets have this degree of importance?
— How is “work” organized and experienced in The Jungle? How would you compare it with work as it is represented in The Chicago Poems, and as it is not in The Age of Innocence?
— Marriage seems to be the center of gravity in Edith Wharton’s old New York, forming a tight-knit circle of upper-class families with shared names and shared bloodlines. Why does Wharton call it a “tribal” society, “a kind of hieroglyphic world”?
— Secondary characters such as old Grannis and Miss Baker, old Mrs. Manson Mingott and Ned Winsett are interesting entry points to their respective novels. Experiment with other similarly unobvious entry points.
— “You can’t make small of me,” “I will work harder,” and “it’s not the thing” are some of the signature phrases offered by Norris, Sinclair, and Wharton. What do they say about their respective fictional worlds?