The Image of the Octopus, six drawings, 1882-1909
As this sample of images and the title of Frank Norris's novel suggest (see Text 3), in late nineteenth-century America the octopus seemed, metaphorically, to be everywhere. Of course, this octopus was not the sort you might snag while deep-sea fishing. It was decidedly a land creature, malevolent, imbued with rationality, purpose, and unbridled appetite. Why did this image resonate so deeply within the popular imagination of the era? It was due to the growing awareness of the extent to which large, centralized, interlocking networks of distribution, organization, and administrationfrom railroads, to power grids, to corporate hierarchies, to political machineswere shaping American life. Trapped in such systems, American sensed a lessening of control in nearly every sphere. For our purposes the specific local conditions to which these images refer are irrelevant. What matters is their interpretation of power and powerlessness. 6 pages.
|- ||The Curse of California, The Wasp, 19 Aug. 1882|
|- ||The Forty T s [Thieves], Harper’s Weekly, 17 March 1888|
|- ||The Menace of the Hour, The Verdict, 30 Jan. 1899|
|- ||An English Country Seat . . . , Puck, 23 Oct. 1901
|- ||"Next!", Puck, 7 Sept. 1904
|- ||The Puzzled Citizen, Chicago Daily News, 3 Feb. 1909|
- Why an octopus? What associations does the octopus arouse in your imagination?
- Considering such elements as tone, setting, shape, and use of space, what similarities do you see in the five images? What differences?
- How do the illustrators characterize the power of the octopus?
- Who are the victims, and how are they portrayed?