Martin Eden: Resistance and Conformity

In the first few chapters, Martin is described accurately by the dialogue he carries with Ruth and her brothers. His willingness to learn and, therefore, become a part of some greater migration between the social classes pushes through as the core theme in the novel. Immediately, he is captured with literature and art- both equally belonging to upper class people, as they have the ability to continue on in their education. I’m not surprised if he is drawn to this lifestyle because of his infatuation with Ruth, but I’m wondering if his infatuation with her is solely because of his innate desire to welcome intellect.

In our first class discussion about the perspective of a digger, I found a single moment of pride within a couple lines in the poem. I see the same spark of pride in Martin Eden (chapter 3) where he is observing the school boys and comparing himself to them. He uses them as a motivation, saying, “But what was a brain for? he demanded passionately.  What they had done, he could do.  They had been studying about life from the books while he had been busy living life.” He understands that there is knowledge that he maintains, having worked as a sailor, than those boys whose eyes don’t make it beyond the sentences in their books. This challenge is refreshing and recurring in the novel. It’s as though London (whether as himself or through his narrator) both cares to resist and assimilate to upper-class culture by questioning the use of analytical thinking and still wanting more than ever to live a “life from the books” (chapter 3).

In chapter 4, this disparity is even more evident when Martin compares his hands and teeth to those of Ruth, drawing the conclusion, “He suddenly saw the aristocracy of the people who did not labor.” However, it doesn’t seem as though he always wants softer hands or cleaner teeth necessarily, especially in this moment where he reflects on his family history and what he remembers about his mother and father working, whether in the kitchen or out of the house. The details in his mother’s labor, such as, “She had worked in the cannery the preceding summer, and her slim, pretty hands were all scarred with the tomato-knives.  Besides, the tips of two of her fingers had been left in the cutting machine at the paper-box factory the preceding winter,” illustrates that he would not wish to let go of his origins. There is pride in how hard he’s worked to develop the mind he has, and although he wants to better himself, there is still the challenge to conform to a foreign lifestyle trickling throughout his inner voice.

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