Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
*Grand Rapids. Western Michigan town near which the novel’s principal male character, Curtis Jadwin, grew up on a farm. Curtis briefly attends high school there but quits to enter the livery stable business and later moves to Chicago. There, he attains great wealth through real estate speculation. Curtis and Laura bring together the economic and cultural strains found in Norris’s depiction of Chicago.
*Chicago. Great midwestern commercial center and hub of the nation’s commodities trading. The dual character of Chicago, as both a cultural and an economic center, is best seen through individual sites that figure into Norris’s novel. At the same time, the city as a whole is wonderfully described in the novel, and there are particularly fine, often poetical, descriptions of the city’s changing seasons.
*Chicago Auditorium. Building in which the novel opens, during a grand opera performance. In addition to introducing the novel’s main characters, this scene offers a powerful symbolization of the dual character of the city. During the midst of the operatic performance, a background conversation about a big wheat deal is taking place.
*Pit. Huge downstairs room in Chicago’s Board of Trade Building in which commodities traders do all their bidding. It represents the focal point of the economic forces presented in the novel. It is here that the nation’s wheat is bought and sold on a world stage. It is also the site of Curtis Jadwin’s eventual financial downfall, as he attempts to “corner” the wheat market. Numerous descriptions of the enormous scale of the pit’s commodities trading appear throughout the novel.
After Curtis Jadwin is ruined in the commodities market, the novel ends with him and his wife leaving Chicago by train. Laura looks back reflectively as they pass the Board of Trade Building, which appears to her “a sombre mass . . . black, monolithic, crouching on its foundations like a monstrous sphinx with blind eyes, silent, grave . . . without sign of life. . . .”
North Avenue house. Chicago house that Curtis buys and has remodeled after his marriage to Laura. It provides another powerful symbol of the novel’s central theme. The extravagance of the house–including its art gallery and built-in organ–is fully described. Juxtaposed to the house’s opulence is the fact that Curtis is largely oblivious to it, knowing little about the expensive works of art it contains. At one moment, he does not even know the number of rooms the house contains. As Curtis becomes more and more consumed with his wheat deal, the artistic dimension of his house offers a retreat for Laura and a place for her developing relationship with the artist Sheldon Corthell.
*American West. The decision of the Jadwins, at the end of the novel, to “start over again” in the West following Curtis’s financial ruin, draws heavily upon the traditional role of the West in American literature as a place of moral regeneration. The novel ends with the Jadwins leaving Chicago. Curtis “studying a railroad folder,” is thinking, one assumes, of the future.