Man-Machine in Martin Eden

Growing up in a working class family in which Martin “remembers the hard palms of his mother as she lay in her coffin. And the horned growth of his father’s hands that must have been half an inch thick when he died” (70), work and machinery was all that he knew. As an individual, Martin adopts a machine-like mentality when he trains himself to speak, think, and act like a middle class gentleman. He is very hyperaware of his shortcomings and works feverishly, day and night, to attain perfection, efficiency, and achievement like that of a machine. He believes that “it was not that his brain was weak or incapable; it could think these thoughts were it not for lack of training in thinking and lack of the thought-tools with which to think.” (91) Rather than believing that intelligence is an innate trait, Martin believes that intelligence and knowledge can be learned and performed. With continuous and consistent practice, Martin will become a natural in operating as a middle class “Sir”.

Martin’s machine like mentality is also demonstrated when he submits his writings to various newspapers as he believes that he will be compensated for the work that he has produced. He doesn’t realize that unlike the factories or sailing on the ship, the simple performance of the work that he has created does not equal compensation. Rather, the work that he has created must have a substantial value in order for Martin’s work to be recognized. Upon his realization of how the middle class world works, “he began to doubt that editors were real men.  They seemed cogs in a machine.  That was what it was, a machine.  He poured his soul into stories, articles, and poems, and entrusted them to the machine.” (160) The editors lack the passion and the emotion of humans as they were a “mere cunning arrangement of cogs that changed the manuscript from one envelope to another and stuck on the stamps.” (161)

Lastly, man as a machinery is alluded in Chapter 16 and 17 when Martin begins working as a laundryman. “All Martin’s consciousness was concentrated in the work.  Ceaselessly active, head and hand, an intelligent machine, all that constituted him a man was devoted to furnishing that intelligence.  There was no room in his brain for the universe and its mighty problems.  All the broad and spacious corridors of his mind were closed and hermetically sealed.” (194) The monotonous and menial tasks does not require too much intelligence or knowledge as it is rather the body that learns the repetitive actions that the work requires. It is only at night or in the morning where Martin operates as a human because he thinks of Ruth and how it is impossible to study when he is working 14 hours a day. This is parallel to the idea that the working class is unable to attain knowledge because most of their time and concentration is committed to their work. Thus, the knowledge that the working class knows is labor, labor that is being served for the upper class like Martin. As a result, it is impossible for the working class to climb the social ladder because they simply do not have the time, energy, and money to educate themselves.  

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