THE ELEMENTS OF AUTOBIOGRAPHY IN ‘MARTIN EDEN’
The name Martin Eden may not ring a bell in this time and age but it certainly made lips quiver at its mention at the turn of the 20th century. This was most likely the case for the city of Oakland in the West Coast of the United States of America. This essay attempts to link Jack London’s real life with his book ‘Martin Eden’.
Martin Eden: Jack London’s Early Struggles as a Writer
Jack London was born in 1876 in San Francisco to W.H. Chaney (an itinerant astrologer) and Flora Wellman, the daughter of an Ohio family.
His early life was full of struggles and he did not go to school until he was 14.
His lowly birth and early hardship are part of the theme in the book ‘Martin Eden’ where the main character struggles with the trappings of both sides of the social divide.
The book begins with a portrayal of a rough person being introduced into a high class family for the first time. This is where we are initially introduced to Martin Eden-’he wore rough clothes that smacked of the sea, and he was manifestly out of place in the spacious hall in which he found himself.’
This reflects positively with the actual Jack London who spent most of his time on the Oakland waterfront and was also an oyster pirate.
This instance proves that Martin Eden is infact a self-portrayal of Jack London as will other instances highlighted further in this essay.
After meeting the bourgeois Morse family, the lad from a working class background resolves to seek ways of winning the heart of Ruth Morse, an ardent reader like himself. He wills to do this by self-education as he says,’ I don’t know such things. It ain’t in my class. But I’m going to make it in my class.’ This is evidence of the self-will and individualism that led Sir Walter Scott, when struggling with debt, to say ‘my own right hand will repay’ meaning he would write prolifically to expunge himself from debt.
This show of individualism contrasts in some ways to his later found socialism which he had learnt by reading Marx. London discovered the Communist Manifesto when he was 20 and seeks to introduce it in the book through Russ Brissenden.Russ is London’s depiction of his friend Sterling, an advocate of Socialism and a poet.
Another instance of London’s real-life is his job at Hickmott’s Cannery where the hard, 12 to 18 hours a day work is drawn up as the laundry where Martin Eden worked under Joe Dawson.
London worshipped Marx and Nietzsche impartially grasping what he could of their diametrically opposed theories, and championing now one, now the other, both in his novels & in his own life. This is shown in his self-condemnation, “Martin Eden,” he communed,”You’re not a brute and you’re a damn poor Nietzscheman.”This is in stark contrast with the slave morality displayed in his long hours of writing,typing,and his publication of Brissenden’s final work-‘Ephemera’.
He struggles between individualism and socialism and socialism as seen in his (Jack London) joining the March on Washington to decry the Economic Depression of the late 1800s but glorifying the individualistic brute that is Martin Eden who slugs it out on his own at sea & also at the laundry.
His love life is centered on Lizzie Connolly who is a cannery worker and Ruth Morse, to who he was initially engaged.
The character of Ruth Morse was modeled on Mabel Applegarth-London’s first love.
Martin Eden’s taking of his own life lends credence to the fact that he is London’s autobiographical portrayal although it could be said this can only be said in hindsight from a reader’s perspective.
Could Jack have been foretelling his own death?
‘The evidence suggests he took his own life’ and furthermore, he says, “I am a sick man-oh not my body. It is my soul, my brain. I seem to have lost all values. “As he ponders Ruth’s half-hearted plea for forgiveness.
In conclusion, all pointers show that Martin London was Jack London’s autobiography, showing his ambitions and aspiration and an intriguing foretelling of how he would die.