LecturesShort biography

Jack London (John Griffith Chaney. 1876-1916)

Jack London, whose life symbolized the power of will, was the most successful writer in America in the early 20th Century. His vigorous stories of men and animals against the environment, and survival against hardships were drawn mainly from his own experience. An illegitimate child, London passed his childhood in poverty in the Oakland slums. At the age of 17, he ventured to sea on a sealing ship. The turning point of his life was a thirty-day imprisonment that was so degrading it made him decide to turn to education and pursue a career in writing. His years in the Klondike searching for gold left their mark in his best short stories; among them, The Call of the Wild, and White Fang. His best novel, The Sea-Wolf, was based on his experiences at sea. His work embraced the concepts of unconfined individualism and Darwinism in its exploration of the laws of nature. He retired to his ranch near Sonoma, where he died at age 40 of various diseases and drug treatments.

Martin Eden: first published in 1909, Martin Eden concerns a sailor and laborer who educate himself so that he might become a part of the wealthy bourgeoisie. Martin Eden is a young, uneducated, uncouth, but world-wise young man. At one point, he meets Ruth, a young lady from the “upper middle class”. Inspired by the college-educated society girl, Martin aspires to a high-thinking life and is determined to gain Ruth’s love. Martin Eden believes he will make himself worthy of Ruth Morris’s love if he can educate himself and acquire the manners he has not learned as a seaman. To gain Ruth’s love he must gain her respect. Martin, unable to afford a formal education, determines to educate himself. Our hero becomes a writer and expresses in his works the views upon life he has learnt from his reading of Spencer. With every hour devoted to writing, and still without an audience for his stories, Martin becomes a poor man and unacceptable to the class conscious Ruth. In time, Martin is rejected by Ruth, her parents, and the socially prominent friends of her family. His stories remain unpublished. The story sees Martin achieve fame at last. Then, Ruth wants him back. She tries to win him back only after he achieves fame. But Martin knows, and cannot forget, that Ruth’s love and acceptance depend on his new fame. Martin’s experience of rejection helps him see the falseness of fame and the falseness of her love. Eden realizes that the woman he loves cares only for his money and fame. He also suffers from class alienation, for he no longer belongs to the working class, since he has now become financially successful. While he is robbed of connection to his own class, he also rejects the materialistic values of the wealthy and realizes his quest for bourgeois respectability was hollow. He sails for the South Pacific and commits suicide by jumping into the sea. The autobiographical novel depicts the inner stresses of the American dream as London experienced them during his meteoric rise from obscure poverty to wealth and fame. It looks ahead to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in its revelation of despair amid great wealth.

Read and Analyze Chapter One of Martin Eden

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