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									Nathan Pierson
Narrative Criticism - McPhee
                                    Analyzing an Opponent

        In John McPhee‟s “In the Search for Marvin Gardens” many instances of repeated

topics occur. These include streets of Atlantic City, broken glass, signs, dogs, jail, the

location of Marvin Gardens, and the people who have influenced Atlantic City. The one

major topic that is not repeated is any direct description of the narrator‟s opponent. Do each

the historical figures from the short histories subtly describe the opponent, and if so, what do

they say about the opponent?

        This story was published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in New York in 1975 as

fifteen pages of a 308 page book entitled Pieces of the Frame. Following almost every

paragraph, the narrative switches from a game of Monopoly being played between the

narrator and an opponent he has played hundreds of times, and a geographical and historical

account of Atlantic City in relation to the game of Monopoly. The history includes several

influential figures of Atlantic City, including Camden & Atlantic Land Company, George

Meade, R. B. Osborne, Colonel Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, John Philip Sousa, Jack Dempsey,

and Al Capone.

        I will use an examination of the narrative to deduce the significance of the historical

persons in relation to the opponent and his personality. The setting, the characters, the

narrator, the events, and the temporal relations all aid in analyzing the opponent through the

historical information given in the narration. First I will use temporal relations to sort out the

structure of the narrative. The structure contains two parallel, related narratives and some

non-directly related historical events. Then, I will use setting, characters, and narrator to help

explain the underlying situation. The settings are a seven game series of Monopoly and the

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streets of Atlantic City. There are two main characters, the narrator and his opponent in the

Monopoly game. The story is told by a narrator, who is directly involved in the story and is

one of the two main characters. Finally, I will use the historical accounts in the story to

answer the research question by examining each of the personalities of the historical persons

and relating their personalities to the opponent‟s personality. Causal relations, audience, and

theme are not needed to analyze the research question.

        Since there are two separate, parallel narratives within the story, time can be

manipulated. The story switches from a seven game series of Monopoly, a first hand look at

streets in Atlantic City by the narrator, and a historical account of Atlantic City. The

firsthand account of Atlantic City and the game being played correspond to each other, and

take place in the course of a few hours, but the historical accounts cover over one hundred

years. All the events within their respective narratives take place in a chronological order;

however, each narrative is paced differently. The game is fast paced: “We are scrambling for

property. Around the board we fairly fly. We move fast . . .” (84). The narrator‟s search for

Marvin Gardens as he travels through Atlantic City is slower because he is at places long

enough to describe them and their people where in the game he only mentions almost nothing

about the property his game piece is on. The quickness of the game emphasizes the need for

the narrator to quickly find Marvin Gardens, and the slow pace of the narrator‟s trek through

Atlantic City shows the gradual realization that the narrator will not find Marvin Gardens in

time to win the game. The historical accounts are not paced because they are inserted in the

narrative as history and not as events.

        The narrative has two settings: a Monopoly game and Atlantic City. Atlantic City is a

setting for both the narrator‟s search for Marvin Gardens and the history of Atlantic City

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itself. The setting of the Monopoly is not mentioned, but does not need to be. The two

settings are constantly being switched from one to the other. The narrator is directly related

to the Atlantic City as he is the only main character in that setting. The opponent is indirectly

linked to the historical events of Atlantic City because each historical person described is

also, in a way, part of the opponent. The difference is that while all the historical events take

place in Atlantic City, the place (Marvin Gardens) the narrator is looking for is the only place

mentioned that is not in Atlantic City. This, symbolically, gives the opponent the advantage.

        The two main characters are the narrator and his opponent. There are also several less

important, supportive characters. The character in the narrator‟s Atlantic City streets setting

help add to the environment and show the narrator‟s helplessness in finding Marvin Gardens.

The characters in the historical events are very useful in that they subtly describe the

opponent. Both characters are flat, they are somewhat predictable to each other, and neither

one is finely developed. Each is part of the Monopoly game narrative, the narrator is part of

the street s of Atlantic City narrative, and the opponent is not a part of, but is defined by, the

people in Atlantic City‟s historical events.

        The first historical person mentioned is George Meade in the second paragraph.

“George Meade, army engineer, built [a] lighthouse [in Atlantic City]—brick upon brick, six

hundred thousand bricks, to reach high enough to throw a beam twenty miles over the sea.

Meade, seven years later, saved the Union at Gettysburg” (75). The opponent used to be in

the army too (79), and just as George Meade was a great military leader and engineer, the

opponent is a great strategist and builds houses and hotels one at a time.

        The second person mentioned is R. B. Osborne, “an immigrant Englishman, civil

engineer, [who] surveyed the route of the railroad line . . . [and] sketched the plan of a

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 „bathing village‟” (77) that would be come to be know as Atlantic City. Osborne named all

 the streets used in Monopoly but, most importantly, he brought the railroads. “The railroads,

 crucial to any player, were the making of Atlantic City. After the rails were down, houses

 and hotels burgeoned . . .” (78). In the seventh and deciding game, the opponent owns all

 four railroads which nearly seals up the championship in his favor.           Osborne laid the

 groundwork for Atlantic City, and the opponent laid the groundwork for a win.

         The Camden & Atlantic Land Company is a group of people who collectively help to

 describe the opponent. “Reverently I repeat their names: Dwight Bell, William Coffin, John

 DaCosta, Daniel Deal, William Fleming, Andrew Hay, Joseph Porter, Jonathan Pitney,

 Samuel Richards—founders, fathers, forerunners, archetypical masters of the quick kill” (78).

 The only specific description of the opponent is very similar to the description of the Camden

 & Atlantic Land Company. “. . . I know [my opponent] well, and I know his game like a

 favorite tune. If he can, he will always go for the quick kill. And when it is foolish to go for

 the quick kill he will be foolish.      On the whole, thought, he is a master assessor of

 percentages. It is a mistake to underestimate him” (76). Camden & Atlantic were the

 original investors in Atlantic City, aggressively buying land and railroads. Now the opponent

 is following Camden & Atlantic, aggressively investing in Monopoly properties.

         Other historical figures include Colonel Anthony J. Drexel Biddle who, “at his

peak, hit an Atlantic City streetcar conductor with his fist, laid him out with one punch” (87),

John Philip Sousa who “. . . first played when he was twenty-one, insisting, even then, that

everyone call him by his entire name” (81), Jack Dempsey who “. . . ran up and down

[Boardwalk} training for his fight with Gene Tunney . . .” (87), and Al Capone who “held

conventions here [Atlantic City]—upstairs with his sleeves rolled, apportioning among his

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lieutenant governors the state of the Eastern seaboard” (87).        Biddle‟s legend kept on

increasing just as the opponent “plods along incredibly well.”          Jack Dempsey was a

heavyweight champion boxer who, while at the top, lost in a complete embarrassment in

Philadelphia to Gene Tunney due to unfavorable conditions and lost his championship

(, showing that the opponent is beatable when the conditions become

unfavorable to him. John Philip Sousa demanded to be called by his full name as the

opponent demands the narrator‟s every last dollar in rent. Al Capone apportioned states to

his lieutenant governors like the opponent apportions houses and hotels to his many


         All the historical figures help in each of their own individual way to describe a part of

 the opponent‟s personality and strategy.      They function to add interest to the game of

 Monopoly being played but, most importantly, they subtly define the narrator‟s competition.

 Even with only a couple of sentences about the opponent, we know the general description of

 the opponent because of the histories. These histories make the narrative more interesting

 then just a simple description of a seven game series of “mano a mano” Monopoly.

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