Throughout the novel Martin Eden, readers accompany a young man who dares to venture into the world of a class of people above his is own; all in order to gain the love of a girl. As endearing, as this may sound, as the novel progresses and within chapters one through eighteen his attempts at ‘winning the girl of his dreams’ become somewhat of a nuisance and tragic in their own way. The protagonist, Martin Eden, comes to the conclusion early on in the novel that in order to gain the love, attention and affection of this pale angel like woman he must obtain proper knowledge fit for her class, for it is because of her that Martin has seen the ‘world’ (London, 72). The only way in which this is possible for him is through books, thus begins Martins transformation from a boy with trivial grammar skills, to a more eloquent and studied man. How this love story will end will be undoubtedly be unveiled as the novel progresses, but for now I shall focus on one reoccurring theme throughout the first eighteen chapters; hands and how their usage and placement are evoked throughout the chapters for different reasons.
Within the first few pages of the novel readers are shown how important the placement of hands are for they portray much of the characters current state of being. For Martin his ‘ape like arms and hands’ are the cause of a blatant awkwardness Martin feels in entering the home of upper class people; he doesn’t know how to stand, walk or hold his arms and hands in a way which will cause no destruction. Martin hands which are filled with lacerations and are raw (London, 17) work in juxtaposition to the hand of Ruth, the woman whom love he seeks to obtain. In the eyes of Martin, she is not only a woman but a “pale, ethereal creature, with wide, spiritual blue eyes and a wealth of golden hair” (London, 10). To Martin this woman is a “spirit; a divinity, a goddess; such sublimated beauty was not of the earth” whose hands are “soft because she had never used it to work with” (London 10, 62). Upon meeting Martin, Ruth’s first desires were to wrap her own hands around Martin tan neck where it would appear that his strength is most prominent to her. The intimacy of such a desire is a new concept to Ruth, for she has not yet received nor provided such affection towards any man. Martin on the other hand has received many forms of affections from many of woman of his own class. Jack London also provides us with many descriptions of these women hands, as in his sister’s hand that are of the same working class as many of the woman whom Martin has sexually encountered, which tend to be hard from endless housework, swollen and red like boiled beef, or scared with numerous cuts (London, 62-63). The hands are what allow man kind to catch and grasp onto all things tangible, whether it be out of need or desire. Jack London incorporation of repeatedly describing the hands of the many women in Martins life works in a way to show the dissimilarities of not only the women in his life but their class and the disparity of their income. What is rather unfortunately about this is that rather than seeing the beauty in the calluses and scars of his working class, he seems to be disgusted and disturbed in ever having allowed such types of hands to touch him.