The Octopus is a stunning novel of the waning days of the frontier West. To the tough-minded and self-reliant farmers, the monopolistic, land-grabbing railroad represented everything they despised: consolidation, organization, conformity. But Norris idealizes no one in this epic depiction of the volatile situation, for the farmers themselves ruthlessly exploited the land, and in their hunger for larger holdings they resorted to the same tactics used by the railroad: subversion, coercion, and outright violence. wheat farmers in the San Joaquin Valley struggling against the rapacity of the all-powerful Pacific and Southwestern (i.
e. Southern Pacific) Railroad. The company controls the local paper, the land, the legislature, and even the farmers' own representative on the state rate-fixing commission. An unremitting tale of greed and betrayal Crops such as cotton and wheat, once the bulwark of agriculture, were selling at prices so low that it was nearly impossible for farmers to make a profit off them. Finally, years of drought in the midwest and the downward spiral of business in the 1890's devastated many of the nation's farmers The growth of the railroad was one of the most significant elements in American economic growth.
, in many ways, the railroads hurt small shippers and farmers Competition between rail companies necessitated some way to win business While the railroads felt that they must use this practice to make a profit, the farmers were justified in complaining, for they were seriously injured by it. A perfect example of this fact can be found in The Octopus by Frank Norris. A farmer named Dyke discovers that the railroad has increased their freight charges from two to five cents a pound. This new rate, "… ate up every cent of his gains The railroads regularly used rebates and drawbacks to help win the business of large shippers, and made up this loss in profit by increasing the cost to smaller shippers such as farmers. As a result, many farmers, already hurt by the down slide in agriculture, were ruined. Thus, the farmers of the late nineteenth century had a valid complaint against railroad shippers, for these farmers were hurt by the unfair practices of the railroads.
Falling prices, along with the need for better efficiency in industry, led to the rise of such companies, deflation and falling prices during the late 1800's led to the most heated complaint of farmers and the Populist party that grew out of agricultural discontent. Deflation had been evidenced by the drastic fall in the value of wheat and cotton. , many farmers used the money supply to explain problems that indeed had very little to do with the money supply at all. they think, not by an increased production of wheat throughout the world, but by the "scarcity of gold Unfair railroad practices, such as rebates and drawbacks, hurt them severely. Many of the fears that farmers had about monopolies, such as the idea of unfair and unreasonable price increases, .
The Octopus that Californians worked their land like the mines that had drawn them to the Golden State. They had come not to settle, but to get rich and to move on. Soil was meant to turn a profit, and, he predicted, "When at last, the land… would refuse to yield, they would invest their money in something else; by then, they would all have made fortunes. The Octopus depicts the strangle hold railroads had on farmers and small town life.
A decidedly unromantic view on just how nasty the "Robber Baron' mentality could be.