Beating, biting and battering don’t typically go hand-in-hand with love and affection. However, the central female love interests in William Attaway’s Blood on the Forge and Frank Norris’ McTeague are attracted by being physically overcome by their partners. Despite striking differences in both personality and sexual experience, Big Mat’s lover Anna and McTeague’s wife Trina share an unusual desire to be dominated. Anna hopes to move up from her peon life as a prostitute and find a big man to fulfill all her monetary desires. However, she finds out that her wants come at a hefty cost. Oppositely, asexual Trina does not know what she wants until she succumbs to the overpowering nature of McTeague, which eventually leads to her demise.
In Attaway’s Blood on the Forge, Anna came to America with one thing on her mind: a big, bountiful Americano. At the ripe old age of fourteen or fifteen, Anna was behind the schedule of her siblings. Not content with popping out babies and posing with a goat for tourists’ pictures, Anna leaves Mexico to work for her aunt Sugar Mama. Anna wants a man who will buy her high-heeled shoes and fancy dresses and get her away from her money-grubbing aunt. “He will be a big man with muscles like a bear on the mountain. That is so he can kill Sugar Mama if she try to hold me when I go with him. He will have a pine tree on his belly, hard like rock all the night. He will get me high-heel shoes with bright stones on the heels” (Attaway 76). When Anna sees Big Mat show his beastly side against Bob Dank and his beaten dog at the dog fight, she believes she has found just what she has been looking for. His actions convey an unspoken animalistic language that has a certain allure to Anna. “I look, and one day at the dogfights there is one fella who fight for me and beat up many men… He is the one” (Attaway 114). At the beginning of their relationship, Anna really does see him as “the one” because she gets exactly what she wants. Big Mat takes her away from Sugar Mama and buys her rhinestone high heels and pretty dresses. Rain or shine, Anna literally wears out her new possessions. But Anna is soon to discover that all that glitters is not gold.
In sharp contrast to Anna is Trina in Norris’ McTeague. Trina is relatively asexual and timid when she first comes into contact with McTeague. McTeague and Trina also don’t have an instant connection or attraction. In fact, when Marcus first leaves McTeague alone with Trina to work on her teeth, McTeague feels very embarrassed and troubled by being with such a young, feminine woman. “These young girls disturbed and perplexed him. He did not like them, obstinately cherishing that intuitive suspicion of all things feminine – the perverse dislike of an overgrown boy. On the other hand, she was perfectly at her ease; doubtless the woman in her was not yet awakened; she was yet, as one might say, without sex” (Norris 17). Despite his apprehensions, the more time McTeague spends with Trina, the more intrigued he becomes, and the more he sees her as his sexual prey. He is overcome by his need for her, and won’t stop until she gives herself over to him. Their initial moments of “romance” are far from romantic. McTeague first kisses Trina while she is asleep for surgery. “But as he drew near her again, the charm of her innocence and helplessness came over him afresh. It was protest against his resolution. Suddenly he leaned over and kissed her, grossly, full on the mouth” (Norris 22). When Trina finally comes to, all McTeague can say is “Will you?” Trina is terrified by the huge brute, a feeling that she would have throughout their entire relationship, although this terror was often times accompanied by desire. Somewhat instinctively, Trina is resistant to McTeague’s longing for her, but eventually she lets go and finds some attraction in being overpowered by the brute. “Why did she feel the desire, the necessity of being conquered by a superior strength? Why did it please her? Why had it suddenly thrilled her from head to foot with a quick, terrifying gust of passion, the like of which she had never known?” (Norris 52). Trina had been overpowered by a force greater than her. For better or for worse, she was caught under McTeague’s spell, and struggle as she might, she belonged to him.
Anna also seems to have a need to be conquered. Anna believes that it is right for Big Mat to beat her, and almost tests the limits to see what the consequences will be. When Anna starts coming home late, Mat loses all of his confidence in their relationship. He becomes suspicious and begins watching her every move. When Melody learns that Anna has been bringing in money for herself by prostituting on the other side of town, he is not really surprised. While he thinks that the only really good women he had ever known were in fact prostitutes, he also knew that they couldn’t settle down with one man. “Now that he considered, it seemed unnatural that Anna should have been so satisfied with her arrangements at home. He should have known that such a woman would not be out of her man’s bed unless there were some substitute” (Attaway 210). Up to that point, Big Mat had still been trying to make love to Anna, although she had little reaction. He would feel bad afterward and then beat her, thus making him feel even worse. She was driving him crazy, and when he finds out the truth, he feels emasculated and goes even crazier. Anna somewhat accepts her final beating, as if to say that she couldn’t do anything more. Even as she is being beaten, she is still drawn into Big Mat. “She hung on his hand like a rag doll, one shoulder high, one toe touching the floor” (Attaway 221). Perhaps she had gotten what she desired, but in the end, the very thing that Anna had wanted the most is also the thing she leaves behind. When Sugar Mama comes to her “rescue,” she leaves her rhinestone high heels in the center of the room. Anna proves that a big, strong man wasn’t enough to fulfill her longing.
Trina and McTeague are a perfect example of lack of fulfillment. When they finally get married, Trina knows right away that although she is afraid of her husband, she is helpless to his intense affection. Despite McTeague’s eventual disinterest with her, she is still attracted to the forceful nature of her partner. Even in her moments of terror, she still wanted his affection. She wanted to be loved “big.” “Trina’s affection for her ‘old bear’ grew in spite of herself. She began to love him more and more, not for what he was, but for what she had given up to him” (Norris 106). Throughout their relationship, Trina loved McTeague because she had given herself up to him. However, there was one part of her that she wouldn’t give up – her money. Once again, we see an aspect of the women’s lives that the men cannot control, and thus attempt to gain power by force. Out of frustration, McTeague becomes more and more forceful with Trina. He bites her fingers sometimes to get money from her, and other times just for the sheer satisfaction of it. Despite all his aggression, Trina couldn’t help but to continue to have soft spot for McTeague, even in her final moments. As with Anna, Trina’s final beating was a mix of retaliation and surrender, and the author’s describe them as something other than human. At first Trina fought back with a wild, unnatural force, but McTeague’s brute strength was too much, and in the end, she seemingly sought protection in the arms of her predator. Norris’ omitted death scene describes her final moments. “But still, like any cat, she writhed and panted, now rolling upon the floor, now upon all fours, now on her knees, and now erect again, and struggling to get close to him, to get her arms about him, too near for the effective” (Norris 206). Because Trina had been submissive to McTeague throughout their entire relationship, it only makes sense that she would end her life in the same way.
Although they came from completely different lifestyles, Anna and Trina shared unhealthy affections for aggression. Anna wanted a big, strong man who would fulfill all her monetary and sexual desires. When Anna had to find a substitute for Big Mat, she paid the price, feeling just how big and strong he actually was. Trina was attracted to the very fact that she had given herself over to McTeague. However, the very thing that she wouldn’t give up to him – her money – is what led to her abominable demise. These women were attracted to something much more powerful than themselves, and they took their final blows in the arms of their lovers.
Attaway, William. Blood on the Forge. New York: The New York Review of Books, 1941.
Norris, Frank. McTeague. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1997.