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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 198

Class is the unmistakably biggest theme of Martin Eden. Jack London writes about Martin, who’s a sailor from the working class. He teaches himself what others have learned in school, for example. He constantly strives to be like the upper classes of the literary tradition he tries to join. But when he gets there, he ends up confused. He sees himself both ways, both as the cultured member of the higher classes and the “fist fighting barbarian” he used to be when he was a sailor.

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Other themes in this book that you can write about for your assignment will spin off this central theme. For example, there’s the divide between a bit more of a collectivist point of view, like the way London was during the period, and the point of view of one striving to be an individual.

There will be a lot for you to write about this since it pervades the novel. Many of the conflicts focus on something that Martin wants, like being successful, with his sense of taking care of the poor. Martin goes to socialist meetings, but he also gets and wants that sense of being better than others.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 314

Martin Eden is a novel of ideas rather than London’s usual narrative of adventure, and it is in some ways the high-water mark of his career. London’s literary credo was realism, often carried to grim, naturalistic extremes, and Martin’s writings embody that credo. Like his contemporaries Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, and Theodore Dreiser, London rebelled against the genteel tradition, represented by Ruth Morse, and against the more refined realism of novelist and critic William Dean Howells. Thus Martin’s literary success becomes a justification of London’s, though Martin’s breakthrough comes after a much longer and more grueling struggle than London’s and though London enjoyed his fame and fortune for years, while Martin commits suicide almost as soon as he becomes a celebrity. Despite his working-class background,...

(The entire section contains 512 words.)

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  • Summary
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