Narrative Criticism of McPhee

Narrative Criticism of McPhee

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Narrative Criticism of McPhee


"Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars." We’ve all heard these phrasesfromthe board game Monopoly. Monopoly, however, isn’t merely a game.It wasbased on an actual city. "The Search for Marvin Gardens" tells of Monopoly’s relation to Atlantic City, NJ. In this narrative criticism I will examine several main characteristics of the piece. In doing so, I will try to answer the question, "How has Atlantic City changed due to a greedy, capitalistic attitude?" I believe that this question makes a good connection to thepiece’s description of the changes in the features of the city.

"The Search forMarvin Gardens" is a section of the book Pieces of the Frame byJohn McPhee. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux published the piece in 1975. Thecomposition itself is fifteen pages long. It tells of Monopoly’s connectionsto a realworld location, Atlantic City, NJ.

In order to write a narrative criticism of McPhee’s "The Search for Marvin Gardens",I firstread and gave a comprehensive examination of the narrative. To dothis,I looked at several characteristics of the piece. I decided that thesetting,the characters, and the theme were the most important characteristicstothis piece. Other characteristics such as the narrator, events, temporalrelations, casual relations, and audience are not quite as important inmycriticism of this piece. To look at the important characteristics, youmustask yourself questions about the piece. How does the setting changethroughoutthe piece? How does the setting relate to the plot and characters?How isthe setting created? Who are the main characters? What are the physicalandmental traits of the characters? What is the major theme of the narrative?There are several other questions you may ask, but they do not prove asrelevantto this piece. The aforementioned questions are significant becausethey helpanswer the research question.

A participant in a game of Monopoly narrates the piece. He not only pictures the game board. He sees the corresponding locations in Atlantic City. The plot line ofthe story follows the narrator in search of Marvin Gardens. Along the wayhe sees the difference between the way things were, and the way they usedto be.

In "The Search for Marvin Gardens", there are basically four physical settings: the Monopoly tournament, Marvin Gardens, Atlantic City of the past, and Atlantic Cityin the 1970s. McPhee alternates between the settings with great regularity,and the tempo of the story is constantly changing.

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The monopoly tournamentsetting is used to rotate between and set up the two Atlantic City settings.Atlantic City of the past is a bustling city built on the railroads andtourism. It is a poster child for greed and capitalism. Nearly all areasare upscale.Celebrities such as John Philip Sousa and Jack Dempsey spenttheir time inAtlantic City. The residents were the upper class. AtlanticCity of the 1970sis a polar opposite. The city has turned into mostlyghettos and slums. Theonce ritzy and trendy areas are now rundown. Thecity is riddled by crime.The streets still bear the same names, but donot resemble those of the past.The aggressive capitalism and greed isgone. The people seem to be in a dayto day struggle.

More reminiscent of the old Atlantic City is Marvin Gardens. It happens to be the only location on the Monopoly game board that is not actually in Atlantic City. MarvinGardens is the perpetual goal of the narrator. It is a utopia with largebackyards and friendly neighbors. It is the pot of gold at the end of therainbow. Many people aspire to live in a place like Marvin Gardens, yetin the piece, no one knows how to get there. It appears to be a pipe dreamto those in Atlantic City. I find it a bit ironic that Marvin Gardens isnot in Atlantic City,because this piece portrays Atlantic City as somewhatof a world of its own.Furthermore, Marvin Gardens is a world apart fromAtlantic City despite beingfairly close in proximity.

The characters of old Atlantic City are the proud, heroic types. For example, Colonel Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, could lay out a streetcar conductor with one punch. Also of note is George Meade, an Army engineer who saved the Union at Gettysburg. When comparing these characters, one other particularly telling factoristhe amount of time spent developing the characters. It seems that McPheedevelops more in-depth characters in the 1930s scenes, whereas the laterscenes rarely tell us much about the character’s background. For example,the turnkey at the jail is only described as Sidney K. However, when JohnPhilip Sousa is referred to, several facts about his career are mentioned.This technique could be a way of making 1930s Atlantic City seem a bitmore substantial.When it comes to the fact, the 1930s characters are upscale,and the 1970scharacters are having struggling to make it to tommorrow.

I think the main theme of the piece relates to greed and wealth. All of the older characters are very successful people. They live the good life, and don’t worry aboutthe feet that they step on. The later characters couldn’t be more different.The primary objective of the game of Monopoly is to force youropponentinto bankruptcy. It is aggressive, cutthroat capitalism at its best.Likewise,Atlantic City was built on these principles.

I concluded that in this piece, McPhee says there are dangers to a greedy, capitalisticworld. Things in Atlantic City used to be wonderful. Now they are terrible.Although the 1930s may have been a prosperous time for some, the positivesweren’t built on a good foundation. At the time, they thought they wereworking their way to "Marvin Gardens", or utopia. However, there were cracksin the system, most notably an uneven economic distribution of wealth."The Search for Marvin Gardens" conveys that this kind of capitalism willlead to an eventual punishment. It certainly has happened to Atlantic City,once a playground for the rich, now a home for the poor.
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