McTeague is a dark study of the oppressive forces that decay and corrupt three people in turn of the century San Francisco: an uneducated dentist (McTeague), his miserly wife (Trina), and their mutual friend and McTeague's ultimate nemesis (Marcus) - all caught up by their debased passion, and greed for gold.
Eventually, Trina’s fixation with money causes the dentist to lose everything. It is discovered that McTeague never in fact attended dental school, and he is forced to resign from his position. Without his income, the couple must survive on her meager wages (her job consists of painting little "Noah’s Ark" toy animals, which eventually leads to paint poisoning and the removal of her fingers), as well as the interest earned each month by five thousand dollars in winnings.
Trina refuses to touch it, and instead the couple moves into what McTeague calls a “rat hole,” all so she can cling to her cash.
Ultimately, he murders her, then runs away, only to find himself handcuffed to his dead pursuer Marcus in the fateful conclusion in Death Valley.
McTeague resonates with power, and as a literary achievement it stands as one of Frank Norris' greatest works and one of the acknowledged masterpieces of American literary naturalism.
FRANK NORRIS (1870-1902) was an American novelist and journalist and a leader of the Naturalism movement. He believed that a novel should serve a moral purpose. "The novel with a purpose," he explained, "brings the tragedies and griefs of others to notice" and "prove(s) that injustice, crime, and inequality do exist." Norris's affinity for exposing the "whole truth, and nothing but," found a broader scope than this. To the best kind of modern literature, "belongs the wide world for range, and the unplumbed depths of the human heart, and the mystery of sex, and the problems of life, and the black, unsearched penetralia of the soul of man." Norris died of peritonitis following acute appendicitis. He was thirty-two years old.