From Fields of Wheat to Fields of Value The Energy Unconscious of The Octopus Early in The Octopus, the first volume of what Frank Norris imagined would be a three-part Epic of Wheat, the would-be poet Presley, whose frustrated search for "the great poem of the West" (40) introduces us to Norris's California setting, thinks he is finally on to something. Having graduated from what is simply termed an "Eastern college" at the beginning of the novel, Presley finds himself on Los Muertos ranch where he encounters the "world's frontier of Romance" (9). Smart enough to know which way the wind blows, Presley is on the hunt for literary pay dirt. The only trouble is that the epic romance he longs to translate into literary pedigree is "out of tune" with the world he encounters (41). In the West the details are, literally, in the dirt. Puffed up on naturalismo, Presley learns to read the birth pangs of a fallow field, the will of wind, and the great, spacious rhythms of hydrology. Attuned finally from high in the San Joaquin Valley, Presley "seemed to dominate a universe, a whole order of things" (47). A new cartography rises up
Western American Literature – The Western Literature Association
Published: Mar 30, 2017
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