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Characters

The two central characters in Jack London's The Iron Heel are Ernest and Avis Everhard.

As the novel begins, Ernest is a self-educated, young laborer with the physique of an athlete. In manner, he is simple and direct, expressing himself in all company with a boldness which belies his social status. In fact, considering his lack of formal education, his surprisingly daunting intellect makes him a forceful, articulate, and persuasive speaker; these qualities will become crucial in his transformation into a political activist. Along with his political convictions, he is possessed of an indomitable strength of purpose, a seemingly boundless capacity for work, and an admirable willingness to suffer greatly in a great cause. Last, but hardly least, he is a tender and passionate lover. Given his nearly inhuman perfection, some have described Ernest as a Nietzschean "Ubermensch"(Superman), in reference to a thinker who influenced the novelist, but it might be more accurate to describe his character as a figure of melodrama.

Avis, the narrator of the long-lost manuscript, which provides the novel's framework, is a character well-matched with her husband. Despite her initial skepticism about Ernest's mysterious character and political views, which challenge those she's developed in the comfortable role of a professor's daughter, she's quick to sympathize with the downtrodden, as she grasps the world of the cruelty and injustice he unfolds. She and Ernest become lovers, and as Avis chooses to join him in a life of struggle against the Oligarchy, we see that she is as much a figure of courage, intellect, and passion as her future husband.

Professor John Cunningham, the father of Avis, teaches physics at Stanford University. He is a humane and open-minded man, for whom inviting to dinner a common laborer, such as Ernest, is a routine event. He also has a sense of humor, reacting with amusement rather than anger, when Ernest punctures some of the fantasies of his academic dinner guests. As life in the United States takes on a darker cast, the professor is quick to respond to these new sources of danger. Ultimately, he comes to lead a life as nomadic as that of his daughter and Ernest.

Bishop Morehouse, one of the intellectual dinner guests of Professor Cunningham, at first rejects what he perceives as the radicalism of Ernest's theories. However, he eventually comes to see that the young laborer is right, becoming an ardent spokesman for the socialist cause.

Jackson is a laborer in a mill owned by a Christian minister, who has lost his arm in one of the machines. He becomes a galvanizing figure for Avis and others, who begin to more fully grasp the nature of the exploitation Ernest has described, after...

(The entire section is 675 words.)