Throughout the first 18 chapters of Martin Eden, we notice a recurring presence of Edens self conflict with two things. The first being his dissatisfaction with himself through his social class, education, and appearance, and the second being his struggle with is masculinity.
His internal struggle and lack of confidence is first brought to to light with Eden is staring at himself giving a description more like an animal than a human for example he is said to have “heavy arms that hung loosely on his sides”. We are aware that Martin Eden is a middle class white sailor yet when described physically he appears to be “bronzed” and less white since he was associated with labor, and is not as “privileged” as whites are usually associated with being. When speaking of Ruth, he makes it clear that they are of different social classes for example he says “People in the books, in her walk of life, did not talk about such things – perhaps they did not know about them, either”. We begin to sympathize with Eden as he struggles to find a way to advance himself into a new life with different standards than he currently holds. His efforts to educate himself with books, spending time at the library, and forcing himself to learn vocabulary is all apart of his struggle for self improvement. Not only is Eden aspiring to be more educated and trying desperately to fit into a higher social class, he is focused on his obsession with Ruth, and sees her as a motivation for his improvements. This is evident as he is in awe with her beauty, and her intelligence “marvelling at all the knowledge that was stowed away in that pretty head of hers, and drinking in the pale beauty of her face”.
Men are known to have huge egos, and Eden is no exception. It is extremely hurtful to his ego that he is infatuated with a girl who is “better” than himself in every sense. His physical description of her, her intelligence, and even her grace and class. Eden does not leave it at that, but makes a point to compare himself to her which shows shame for himself in a way. He struggles with being a man in the sense that he is supposed to be stronger and smarter and more respectable in order to impress the girl he likes yet he is failing to do so in these chapters. The story of his scar I think is extremely symbolic of his confidence and manhood, and how he is able to restore it and work harder to achieve confidence and “manliness”. “A mexican with a knife miss….he tried to bite off my nose.” Although he could have left the story with just the cut, it is symbolic that the mexican tried to bite off his nose and failed. Through many literary pieces and history we see the amputation of the nose to be symbolic of mahood. For example in “Bisclavret” when Bisclavret in werewolf form bites of his ex wife’s nose in rage since she is sexuaslly persuing another man, leaving their relationship permanently severed. Because the mexican in his story was unable to bite his nose off, that shows there will be progress in his attempts to impress Ruth, and be the man she would want to be with.