Thoughtless Values

Mohit Sani

Global Cities 14-3

Thoughtless Values

The characters in McTeague seem destined to realize their self-inflicted fates from the beginning of the novel. The characters go on without ever taking the time to assess their values. Though every character in this novel is instinctively attracted to gold, it is their stubborn moralities and prides that underlie their mistakes.

Yet, a beacon of light is found in Old Grannis. Not only is he one of two characters in the novel to end up happy, but he is the only character who ever assesses his relationship with money. He thinks about how money affects his life and recognizes a mistake he made. The characters in this book therefore have the ability to exert free will through introspection, but largely do not use it, which causes their demises.

In other words, if one accepts each character’s flaws, then their fates are tragic. If you think of Old Grannis as proof of the power of introspection, then their fates are self-inflicted.

  1. McTeague does not want to be undermined. People try to undermine him by cheating him out of his money or way of life.

McTeague kills Mark because he does not want to submit to Mark. He does not want Mark to take something that’s ‘rightfully’ his.

McTeague fights for the gold at the end of the novel despite its clear futility, placing his autonomy over life itself.

He kills Trina because she didn’t give him any money when he was hungry.

He abuses Trina because he feels she is cheating him of a better life.

“You can’t make small of me.”

McTeague was perfectly content in his lonely life as a dentist. He was perfectly satisfied with his gold tooth.

  1. Mark feels morally superior to McTeague. He does not wonder if he doesn’t in fact have a right to the money.

In his monologue, he switches from blaming himself for giving up Trina, to blaming luck incredibly quickly. He resists believing he himself is in the wrong.

He fights McTeague at the end of the novel despite clear futility, placing his entitlement to the money over life itself.

He refuses to associate with McTeague after the lottery.

He pesters McTeague, making jokes about him.

After Mark ‘gave up’ Trina, he “enjoyed those days greatly” where he got to steal attention for being noble. He intermittently sighs grand reminders of his magnanimity.

“I’ve been played for a sucker long enough.”

  1. Trina blindly wants to save money.

She is characterized as “saving without knowing why.”

“I’m a miser… It’s a good flaw… I can’t help it anyways.” These excuses save her from self-study.

She saves for a “rainy day” when she lives in a single room apartment.

She asks McTeague for his money.

She distracts herself from thoughts that she should help McTeague pay for the mistakenly rented apartment.

She distracts herself from thoughts that she should send McTeague money for food when he needs it, though she concedes that helping is the right thing to do. “’What have I come to be that I would see Mac – my husband – that I would see him starve rather than give him money… I’ll send it to him tomorrow… Where? Well, he’ll come back,’ She… called as loudly as she dared, ‘Mac’…” She did not want him to hear.

She distracts herself from thoughts that she should send her parents money. “In fact, Trina never allowed herself to think very much of this affair.”

  1. Old Grannis is awesome. He is a relief in a novel that otherwise is quite damning about human nature.

He buys Trina her wedding photo from the auction of their former house’s belongings.

He regrets selling his book binding apparatus. He recognizes his mistake and does not express a need to spend or save his newfound money. (One out of the two whole usages of the word “regret” in the novel is during this passage.)

He feels no need to portray a certain self-image. Every character seems to have a repetitive slogan. His is told by Miss Baker, making it not really his own.



Mohit —

“Man Without a Slogan” would be a great title for your essay, setting Old Grannis apart from McTeague, with his “You can’t make small of me”; Marcus (not Mark!), with his “I’ve been played for a sucker too long”; and Trina, with her “I can’t help it anyways.”   Since this is a short, 5-page paper, make sure that your focus is always on the slogans: what they say about the obsessive psychologies and fatal flaws of McTeague, Marcus, and Trina, and why its absence is a saving grace for Old Grannis.  Looking forward to a tightly structured and forcefully argued essay.     — wd


This outline looks like it will become a pretty great essay. I’m especially interested in the way you contrast McTeague and Marcus, considering that (besides their financial luck) they strike me as superficially similar characters. “I’ve been played for a sucker long enough,” and “You can’t make small of me” seem at their core very similar statements, only differing in their perspective, centering around wealth. Good luck writing!


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