ESSAYS: Jack London – Martin Eden

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Jack London, prestigious author of Martin Eden writes his opinions into his work. Aspects of different societies are prevalent throughout his work and the class struggle between different classes of characters is apparent in his writing. Although not an autobiography much of his writing can appear to include his personal views on life. Martin Eden, the protagonist created by London begins as a petty seaman works his his way to the upper class of society. Through self-determination and self-education he is able to become a member of the bourgeois. Writers with styles similar to London in that they all write in the same style in that shows the struggle of the poor and their climb to the upper class only to see that it reveals a faux ideal. Alice Hoffman author of Here On Earth appears to hold many of the same beliefs as Martin which are seen throughout her novel.
Martin Eden was forced to make his own living. Eden was never given anything and had to work to gain everything he wanted. Everyday struggles included finding the simple necessities of food and shelter. As a poor sailor, Eden looked around and saw the ideals of the bourgeois. Through the eyes of Eden the Bourgeois were the educated, wealthy, and were what Martin desired to become. He dreams of becoming educated and belonging to the upper class; ultimately he finds one small connection that opens up a new world to the once struggling seaman.

Although later disproved, his first impressions of this class were seen from an outsider’s view as perfect. ‘Here was intellectual life, he thought, and here was beauty, warm and wonderful as he had never dreamed it could be.’ (p. 40) Martin comes into contact with a family that introduces him to this new world. The Morse family was all Martin dreamed of, he viewed them, as them part of a perfect society and Ruth was the focal point of it.! Ruth was heavenly like a flower; her culture and sophistication stimulated him.

Introduction to this new class surprised Martin. The library, a new idea to him, becomes his new haven. Although he lacked both the time and money necessary for a traditional education between sailing he began his way to self-education. In the beginning Martin was separated from Ruth because of their class difference, but as this yearning for education developed he and Ruth become involved. ‘He wasn’t of their tribe, and he couldn’t talk their lingo was the way he put it to himself. He couldn’t fake being their kind.’ (p. 51) Although he wasn’t born any with any of these ‘privileges’ he made it his business to strive to fulfil what he thought was the better society. Through his studying he soon developed a love for writing and although he was still a sailor he continued to develop a passion for something new to his mind. Discovering the world of writing and literature he was able to take himself places he had never dreamed he would be. His climb to the upper class was a big struggle for him in his life. Martin’s first attempt at becoming a part of the society was a failure. At first his etiquette wasn’t good enough and he was too opinionated and looked down upon by guests of the Morses’. Martin’s writing transcends him into a new person. Martin’s transformation allows him to understand that things are not cracked up to what they appear to be. When he achieves opulence, Martin feels as if he is still not accepted as a true member of the elite. He believes that he is still the same Martin Eden, his fame has only changed his image not his character. ‘Martin bethought himself of the numerous occasions on which he had met Judge Blount at the Morses’ and when Judge Blount had not invited him to dinner. Why had he not invited him to dinner than? He asked himself. He had not changed. He was the same Martin Eden. What made the difference?’ (p. 437) The truth of the upper class is revealed once Martin becomes accepted as one of them. Martin becomes disgusted and as he was once looked down upon, he begins to look down upon the members of the ‘upper class.’ Throughout literature this common rejection can be found. In Alice Hoffman’s, Here On Earth Hollis is similar to Martin Eden. This is the same rejection that Hollis experiences at the hands of Hank and their eronics. The age-old argument of new money vs. old money is a central theme throughout literature. At one point another prominent author, F. Scott Fitzgerald remarked to Ernest Hemingway, ‘the rich are different from you and me.’ As Hollis and Martin Eden are to the respective rich, they can never be truly accepted into the bourgeois society. Hover, their dedication to assuming the identity of the rich causes them misery and sorrow and eventually leads to a tragic death. Martin Eden’s perseverance and hard work were both a let down and a pickup it was a double-edged sword. His laboring leads to his eventual success and his emotional downfall.

London explores a key question; Is it worth the trouble to gain prestige and wealth but to lose your livelihood? Through Martin Eden London explores the struggle between classes. Specifically London explains the yearning of the poor to be rich and the steadfastness of the rich to be unacceptant of the ‘nouvelle rich.’ This struggle is apparent as barriers continue to exist in the struggle between classes.

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