Knowledge and Martin’s use of the word “Nasty”

In the evolution of Martin Eden’s life, we find that intelligence is both his hobby, and his near to ambition. In the evident and eventual aftermath of his “heart to heart” with Ruth, where he finds both a complication between what he thinks reality to be, towards what is actually in front of him, he finds that enclosed cave of books soon creeps up on him. One of the words Jack London allows Martin Eden to use is the word “nasty,” to a point in conversation with Ruth, brings about one of Martin’s anxieties. She asks him “Why didn’t you select a nice subject?” while he in his head notes that there is that ascertain “know that there are nasty things in the world!” (168)

While the word “nasty” can be brought up as passively negative, Ruth’s perception of the word is entirely noting on her past experiences of how the world isn’t as pleasant, and is reminded by Martin’s mention of it. Through this argument we see her discontent in how bluntly questions him stating: “Why didn’t you select a nice subject?” as he continues to align his knowledge of the “nasty” world surrounding him. The absorption of knowledge that Martin expresses, comes out of his sheltered sea life, to which everything, especially Ruth, where he connotes as a spectacle of perfection and beauty to him, and continues through his appliance. It is no surprise that he certainly finds his rise and fall through knowledge, as his “innocence” in the world of love, and the outside world away from the sea is limited. The limited perspective that Jack London allows, also pinpoints a psychological connection to the beginning of the story, where he lays out a map of thoughts of all the concerns, ambitions, needs, and insecurities that Martin is facing and will soon face.  Going back to the word, it seems that even though the word “Nasty” is at most a negative term for Ruth, there is some implication that Martin takes it as an adjective of affirmation to the world around him. The innocence he provides allows him to look at the world as “nasty” in the sense of having nastiness, but not being a corrupting ideal to his conscience.


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