Explore the themes of consumption and violence in The Vegetarian. How might this strange novella function as an ad hoc allegory for the forces characterizing contemporary capitalism? What specific elements of the narrative– character, plot event, imagery, motif, etc.– work to produce dramatic effects which, in turn, assert a particular social content? Is this text gothic or does it merely borrow gothic materials? Be sure to consult some of our assigned secondary readings (the Manifesto, Baldick’s introduction, etc.).
Explore the ways that VATB dramatizes turn-of-the-century cultural anxieties concerning racial degeneration, masculinity, and the loss of social (class) position. What specific elements of narrative discourse (ex. distance, action, types) does Norris employ in order to render Vandover’s decline? In what senses might the novel be regarded as an exemplar of dark modernity? How do other characters (Geary, Dummy, Flossie, et al) function to confirm or contrast the significance of his decline? Consult relevant secondary readings such as “Degeneration” from the Encyclopedia of the Gothic AND undertake research beyond our assigned readings.
This is an excerpt from a paper I wrote a long time ago. You may find it useful in thinking about VATB, but it’s not required reading.
Frank Norris and the Naturalist Romance
Norris advertised his work as a hybrid of two overlapping and loosely construed modes of American fiction. The American novel would become true to its national-cultural context when realism’s concern with mimetic accuracy fused with romance’s search for the deeper human truths residing beneath social surfaces. As he indicated in several oft-cited short essays, Emile Zola modeled this synthesis– though significantly Norris drew inspiration from Zola’s novels rather than criticism such as “The Experimental Novel.” In his seldom neglected aesthetic statement, “A Plea for Romantic Fiction,” Norris nominates Zola as “the very head of the Romanticists” (216), an office he elevates well above the station of writers of “borrowed, faked, pilfered romanticisms” (“An American School of Fiction?” 196). The “mere sentimentalism” of the former, he asserts, their implicitly dishonest (and effeminate) literary domesticity, has been misidentified with romance proper (213). A genre with profound cultural– even racio-civilizational– significance, Norris argues, romance has been travestied, transformed into “a conjurer’s trick-box” stuffed with “flimsy quackeries, tins and claptraps” intended merely “to amuse, and relying on deception” (214). In a gesture of repudiation comprehending both popular-historical romances and fictions propagating “false views of life,” Norris clears the ground for American literature not in order to claim its autochthonous origins but on the contrary to execute an inheritance (“Responsibilities of the Novelist” 11).