The Octopus is a story of corporate greed, power, and abuse.
In 1899, Frank Norris had an idea for a novel so "big that it frightens me at times.” An epic story set in the wheat fields of California’s San Joaquin Valley; he would call it The Octopus.
He envisioned a devastating depiction of the stranglehold of railroad companies on western farmers, and a fit image for the railroad tracks that were criss-crossing California, squeezing the wheat fields, (and the wheat farmers) within its steel tentacles, and threatening their economic survival.
A group of wheat farmers agree to work a railway company's land in exchange for assurances that after a ten-year period they will be able to purchase the land at a reasonable price.
When it comes time for the purchase of the land, the railway company decides to go back on its promise and brings all of their power to bear against the farmers in a deceitful and bloody confrontation. (The story was inspired by Southern Pacific Railroad's action in the Mussel Slough Tragedy.)
The Octopus 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.