Written in 1899, Frank Norris" novel, McTeague serves as a view of San Francisco at the turn of the century. Norris illustrates what life was like in an ordinary community in San Francisco, by using descriptive imagery throughout the novel. In addition, Norris gives detailed accounts of the inner workings of society along with the emotions of the time. Through his characters, Norris shows the separation of classes and the greed that grew abundantly during the late 19th century. He also gives a grim picture of survival in his depiction of San Francisco at the time.
The first chapter of the book had to probably be the most descriptive in terms of setting, in which Norris went all out in describing the atmosphere in which this story was to take place. In the first chapter Norris paints a picture of a town setting. He describes Polk Street as "one of those cross streets peculiar to Western cities, situated in the heart of the residence quarter, but occupied by small trades people who lived in the rooms above their shops. There were corner drug stores with huge jars of red, yellow and green liquids in their windows, very brave and gay; stationers" stores, where illustrated weeklies were tacked upon bulletin boards; barber shops with cigar stands in their vestibules; sad-looking plumbers; offices; cheap restaurants, in whose windows one saw piles of unopened oysters weighted down by cubes of ice, and china pigs and cows knee deep in layers of white beans." (p.8).
Though quite long, this paragraph is essential to the readers understanding of the way San Francisco look and felt at the time. From this paragraph, the reader gets a visual image of the town during the 19th century. Cozy, quaint and rather poor, this town exists as an example of any other town at this time. Also, in setting the activities of the time period, Norris describes the morning ritual on Polk Street to display the stratification of the classes.