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Broad themes presented in The Octopus
There can be only a few doubts that, throughout the entirety of Norris’s novel The Octopus, the theme of the West dominates. Having been a romantically minded individual, Presley used to think of the West, as such that evokes the images of “infinite, illimitable, stretching out there under the sheen of the sunset forever and forever, flat, vast, unbroken” prairies (Norris 1).
This, of course, implies that initially, Presley was inclined to refer to the West in terms of something waiting to be conquered – hence, providing its would-be ‘conquerors’ with the opportunity to act in the strongly defined ‘manly’ manner. It is understood, of course, that this particular vision of the West, on Presley’s part, is fully consistent with that of Owen Wister’s.
Just as it used to be the case with Wister, Presley tended to believe that it is specifically the fact that, while in the West, one is being forced to affiliate itself with the so-called ‘masculine values,’ which contributes to people’s obsession with this particular destination more than anything else does.
Magnus Derrick and Behrman: feelings and ideas
The author’s description of Magnus Derrick implies that throughout his life, this character never ceased being referred to as a ‘man of the statue’: “Magnus… was all of six feet tall… He was broad in proportion, a fine commanding figure, imposing immediate respect, impressing one with a sense of gravity” (Norris 5). Due to having been a rather wise individual, who had experienced several hardships in his life, Derrick never thought of the West in terms of an ‘inspirational asset.’ Instead, he preferred to refer to the idea of ‘Western living,’ as such that is being synonymous with the notion of ‘struggle for survival,’ rather than with the notion of ‘heroics.’
S. Behrman, on the other hand, is represented in the novel as an individual, who is being primarily driven by his animalistic love of sensual pleasures, extrapolated by the concerned character’s physical appearance: “He (Behrman) was a large, fat man, with a great stomach” (Norris 7). This partially explains why, as opposed to what it used to be the case with Presley and Derrick, Behrman tended to regard the West in terms of a money-making opportunity alone.
Images of angry men
One of the most memorable aspects of the novel’s scene, in which ranchers confront Behrman for the first time, is that during the course of this confrontation, they were becoming nothing short of the anger-filled apes: “…ready to bite, to rend, to trample, to batter out the life of The Enemy in a primeval, bestial welter of blood and fury” (Norris 12). This, of course, does provide a certain rationale to the suggestion that Norris used to be fascinated with the ideas of Social Darwinism.
The reason why Derrick initially resented the idea of leading other ranchers, is that knew that he would have to indulge in the dishonest behavior (e.g., receiving/giving bribes), had he decided positively, in this respect. In the aftermath of having dealt with bankruptcy, Derrick and his wife (Mrs. Derrick) ended up becoming civil servants, as they mean to be able to meet ends. We can hypothesize that this was meant to symbolize that, in their confrontation with urban-modernity, the so-called ‘traditional values’ have no chance, whatsoever. After all, this suggestion indeed resonates rather well with the overall spirit of realism, emanated by Norris’s novel.
Norris, Frank. The Octopus: A Story of California.