Martin Eden, Class and knowledge

The dichotomy between the working class and the bourgeoisie in Martin Eden has a physical manifestation in the titular character. From the beginning of the novel to the end, the reader sees a change in Eden that parallels the differences in class. Eden realizes early on the difference between the working class and the bourgeois through meeting the Morse family. They exemplify everything Eden wants to have. In the first few chapters, Eden pits himself against them in his mind and finds that everything that is ‘beautiful’ in them, he lacks. Ruth is an intellectual; she doesn’t work with her hands. She is soft and smooth, ‘pure’. Meanwhile Eden finds himself to be dirty, rough and born from the life he has lived for twenty years as a working class man. He looks into the mirror in his apartment and sees all these faults, merely because of Ruth and his apparent love of her (23).


To gain social status he has to work for it. He has to read on everything he could get his hands on in order to make true what he wants. It is a difference between the body and the mind, and no matter what he does he can’t seem to reconcile both. He can’t reconcile the working class person he is, and the bourgeoisie he becomes. This becomes apparent whenever he is speaking with Ruth. Despite his quickly emerging capability of speaking the ‘correct’ way, he always falls back on his usual dialect, which is the slang terminology of the working class. It is impossible to erase the life he has lived so far, but he tries to do so anyway—for Ruth and for himself with his desire to become a writer.  


The difference, of course, between the working class and the upper class is their meaning of work. Instead of manual labor, they think of office jobs or lawyers as a profession. That is how Eden is capable of becoming a writer at all. But there’s still a distance between himself and the bourgeoisie he has associated himself, specifically in that he has become more cultured than they have, as illustrated in the scene where Eden gets into a discussion with the judge (198). His ultimate end is a culmination of factors: his disillusionment with the society he longed to be a part of, his inability to reconcile himself with the life he once lived and the life he came into and the feeling of alienation. It’s almost as if he feels himself too advanced to connect with anyone, including Ruth who he has pined for the entire novel. The novel is this tragedy of the working class man who attempts to better himself only to find that the life he led before might have been better, or easier. It’s disappointing to say the least. 


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