Symbolic Meanings In Martin Eden

Losing it All to Gain it All: Symbolism in Martin Eden by Jack London written by: Tejucole The novel Martin Eden was written in 1908 by Jack London, an American author, and published by Macmillan Publishers in 1909. It tells the story of Martin Eden, a sailor who while out of work, encounters a beautiful young lady, Ruth Morse, and decides to become an author, perhaps to impress upon her his affection for her. It leads the reader through the travails of the lead character, as he struggles to sustain himself and his newfound passion, depending on hand outs from his sister and odd jobs for survival. The reader is taken on a journey through the different social strata of 19th Century California; from the bourgeois life of his sister, to the middle class life of the Morses, to the low class life of his sailor friends to the very lowest social class of the proletarian where his only possession is his labor.

He faces rejection from the publishers and eventually loses the love of his life, Ruth, who grows impatient with him just before his big break. It is a story of love, rejection, toil and sweat and eventual success for the main character Martin Eden. And yet, when success finally comes, he has lost all his desire for it, rendered indifferent by the struggles and the cruelty that life dealt him in his journey to wealth and fame. It finally ends with Martin Eden committing suicide by drowning even after achieving fame and wealth. To tell such a profound story, much symbolism has been used as discussed below.

1. The Morses’ Residence

The Morses’ residence is the first symbol used in the novel, showing the enormity of the task that lay ahead of Martin Eden as he would spend the better part of the story trying to change his station in life. He felt awkward in the house when he entered it with Ruth’s brother, fearful that his very presence was a disturbance. Even when Arthur prompts him to feel comfortable, he does not quite feel in place in the huge house. It symbolizes not only the huge task that lay ahead of him, but also the huge difference between the man that he was and the man that he was trying to become. Even when he achieved that status that so much awed him, he never quite fit into it. Although he became rich, he never quite became the rich man.

2. Margey

Margey is described in the book as a small factory girl of fifteen. Martin had seen her home before and it was a tenement, a place not even fit enough for pig to live in. She represented the low of the lowest, the proletarians. When she put her lips up for a kiss, he did not want to kiss her. He was actually afraid of her. Margey symbolized the proletarian life and Martin’s relationship with that social stratum. Initially, he was afraid of it, deeming it unfit even for humans to live that kind of life. But as he came closer to it, he began to understand it, at first feeling pity for those that lived it. Eventually, however, he embraced it and learned how to live that kind of life himself, as he did Margey in the vision.

3. The Fight

The fight in which Martin saved Arthur Morse was symbolic of the nature of his relationship with Ruth Morse, or his pursuit of it. While she did fall in love with him and got engaged to him, keeping her was always a struggle, a fight of sorts. She was a well educated middle aged woman from a well-to-do family while he was an uneducated young man from a poor family. Their relationship seemed doomed to fail from the very onset. However, buoyed by her love and dreams of better days, he worked hard to educate himself and set out to become an author, feeling sure that his writing would get him out of poverty and make him worth of her love. He fought to keep her and struggled to get his manuscripts published in order to be able provide for her and the family that they would start together eventually. It was disappointing when, just before his big break came, she grew impatient with his poverty and decided to leave him. Although he eventually got his book published and rose to a station of wealth and fame, he had lost the one fight that really mattered to him.

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