Then a long wrangle began. Every bit of junk in Maria's pillowcase was discussed and weighed and disputed. They clamored into each other's faces over Old Grannis's cracked pitcher, over Miss Baker's silk gaiters, over Marcus Schouler's whiskey flasks, reaching the climax of disagreement when it came to McTeague's instruments (28).
Most of Maria’s “junk” surpasses Zerkow’s interest, except for the gold fillings — this grabs hold of his utmost desire. It is crucial to notice his sexually suggestive language conveyed in his reaction as they reach the “climax” of disagreement over McTeague’s gold:
Zerkow drew a quick breath as the three pellets suddenly flashed in Maria's palm. There it was, the virgin metal, the pure, unalloyed ore, his dream, his consuming desire. His fingers twitched and hooked themselves into his palms, his thin lips drew tight across his teeth (Norris 28).
In this passage, Zerkow is lusting for the gold, the “virgin” metal. As Maria “shut[s] her fist over the pellets,” she consequently denies Zerkow the object of his desire (Norris 29). Yet Zerkow would stop at nothing to have it, and the tone of their haggling reveals aggression.
After the bargain was complete, Zerkow offers Maria a drink and asks her about the gold dishes her father owned in Central America. In his anticipation to hear the story, Zerkow “was breathing short, his limbs trembled a little. It was as if some hungry beast of prey had scented a quarry. Maria still refused, putting up her head, insisting that she had to be going” (Norris 29). This is an explicit example of his consuming desire for gold. However, it appears to me as though gold is replacing the female body as an object of sexual desire, and the quarry symbolizes the female body acting as a barrier in which men must violate to claim the gold that’s hidden from them.