Rates, Romance, and Regulated Monopoly in Frank Norrisâs The Octopus James Dorson, Freie UniversitÃ¤t Berlin For a novel as grandly conceived as the opening volume in the âEpic of the Wheat,â the plot of Frank Norrisâs The Octopus (1901) turns on what seems like a rather prosaic issue: a dispute over freight rates. The clash over rates between the ranchers of the San Joaquin Valley and the Pacific and Southwestern Railroadâmodeled after the Southern Pacific Railroad, notorious for its high freight ratesâfirst erupts at the train station in Guadalajara when Harran and Magnus Derrick, two of the biggest ranchers of the San Joaquin Valley, encounter S. Behrman, the regional agent of the railroad, while they are inspecting a shipment of plows. The previous day the ranchers had learned that their legal battle to prevent the railroad from raising its freight rates on grain has failed, a decision by the California Railroad Commission that they suspect Behrman to be behind. Yet when they confront him over the issue, he is glibly evasive. Echoing legal arguments used at the time in rate cases, he insists that low rates amount to a âconfiscation of property,â that the railroad only wants âa
Studies in American Naturalism – University of Nebraska Press
Published: Nov 3, 2017
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