Frank Norris's emphasis on sex is best seen as part of a cultural response to Darwin's theory of sexual selection. Following Joseph Le Conte's effort to spiritualize evolution and move beyond Darwin and the neo-Darwinians, Norris first gave us characters like Vandover and McTeague-more fully animalistic than any American characters before them-and finally characters like the highly civilized and somewhat "divine" Laura Jadwin in The Pit. All of Norris's characters contend with the elements of sexual selection defined by Darwin-e.g., the male's "secondary sexual character" of "prehensile" power or the power of sexual attraction in music and dance. Only his later characters succeed in transcending sexual selection to express "love," a product of higher evolution that is simply beyond primitive characters like McTeague or people of mixed race in Norris's novels. Norris is best seen as a participant (along with Le Conte) in "the eclipse of Darwinism" by several "anti-Darwinian evolution theories" at the turn of the century. Norris's role in this cultural movement included his use of Darwin's theory of the expression and repression of emotions in order to repress, and to present characters who repressed, the sexual instinct. It is ironic that his most forceful effort in this regard (in The Pit) appeared at the moment when a new theory was developing, in popular Freudianism, that the sexual instinct must not be repressed.
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