The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The character Ernest Everhard is undoubtedly London’s own alter ego, who writes and lectures to well-to-do bourgeois groups who support industrial capitalism. Ernest takes pleasure in taunting his audience. When he tells a group that the proletariat will one day in the future triumph over them, one indigent bourgeois rises to his feet and snarls at Ernest: “We will grind you revolutionists down under our heel, and we shall walk upon your faces.”

Ernest’s wife, whom he has converted to socialism, is the daughter of a university professor and a distinguished scientist. Although politically naïve, Avis is the narrator of the fragment that is the “Everhard manuscript”; Ernest has been killed, executed by the fascist organization known as the Iron Heel. He is conceived of as a Nietzschean “blond beast” and in terms of Social Darwinism; that is, he is a working-class prodigy who is also a “natural aristocrat.” He sees his mission in life as to spread the gospel of socialism and to convince those attached to capitalism of the desirability of a socialist society. (Despite London’s desire to give the character of Ernest Everhard a Nietzschean coloring, this blacksmith proletarian intellectual seems likely modeled on or suggested by the New England world-peace evangelist Elihu Burritt (1810-1879), known in his day as “the Learned Blacksmith.”