The book opens abruptly with the description of Martin trying to make his way through a house where he was invited to have dinner. He steps into the world of Morse family, made up of Mr. and Mrs. Morse and their three children: Arthur, Norman, and the lovely Ruth.
Being invited there by Arthur as a thank you for having rescued him from a potentially dangerous situation, Martin would have never imagined that such an invitation was about to be life-changing for him.
The Morse Family
Mr. and Mrs. Morse, Arthur, Norman, and Ruth seemed, at first, interested in Martin more as a case study than anything else. They were part of the bourgeoisie, never having mingled with the common folk, treating everything as being normally owed to them due to their status.
Their arrogance towards people outside of their class is more than evident in their speech and attitude. They believe to be smarter than the rest for the soul justification that they have access to higher education, when, in fact, they have nothing more to offer than their name and status.
Martin is a strong young man, who sees the shortcomings of his education but wants to surpass all obstacles and succeed. He feels his undiscovered potential and believes in the justice of his determination.
There are two interesting traits of character pointed out right from the beginning that could serve as clues for the destiny of the character. “He was different from other people” and “he seemed to have a genuine affection for people”. The fact that he was different from other people would take a different connotation that one had expected. As far as his love for people. Well, it was still there, but only for those who were human to him first.
What’s love for Martin Eden?
Women seemed to have always preferred Martin for his built and strength and he knew he could have any one of them if he wished it. He never had to work hard to gain a woman’s love, at least, not until he met Ruth, the only one who was out of reach.
The moment Martin is introduced to Ruth Morse is the beginning of his transformation from a caterpillar to a butterfly, though the process would be long and painful, more than he would ever imagine. Ruth became the symbol of love, beyond the fleshy creature to whom Martin became attracted.
Having met her in her environment, her family home, he assumed that getting to her would mean him climbing the social ladder, becoming worthy of such a creature.
Martin Eden dedicated himself to a life of study, making sacrifices beyond Ruth’s understanding and appreciation. He goes from being a sailor to lead a life of study and learning. He sets himself a high goal, of leaving everything behind to become a writer.
His road is long and tedious, having to support himself while pursuing his ambition. He knows more of despair and hunger than of success, yet, he goes on, gaining strength in his intellectual abilities with every piece he writes.
The more he struggles to reach the upper-class status, the more he is forced to go back to the working class to make the money to eat. He starts resenting them both, one for denying his ambition and the other for closing the doors of social status.
In his pursuit of a better life for himself, of becoming a writer and therefore worthy of Ruth’s love, he finds kindness and bitterness, love and hate, hunger and disillusion, disappointment, and rejection.
Just as everything seems lost, he starts getting recognition for his writing. Constant rejection is replaced by general acceptance.
Though, the moment Martin becomes famous is the moment he stops fighting. It’s then that he realizes his ideal is gone. It didn’t even hurt the fact that Ruth had left him, but that he didn’t have anything to fight anymore.
The bourgeoisie, the untouchable ideal, was a disappointment to him. He was no longer at home with his own peers, for he couldn’t breathe in that environment anymore. He would be a weak bird, thrown at the mercy of the wind.
The saddest part about it was that he thought getting to Ruth meant being as smart as the class she was part of, when, in fact, her class was made up of mediocrity. At least his mediocre peers knew where they were standing. The bourgeoisie didn’t even know their limitations.
He thought among the educated people of the upper class would find the universe, when in fact it was hidden in the midst of the Market Street building, where his inspiration Russ Brissenden would introduce him, in his simple peers full of ideas and dogmas. He had to climb the ladder to find his way back down, where it should have been his starting and ending stop all along.
Martin ends his life, having nothing to fight for. His burden was not the knowledge he gained but the sacrifices he had to make to get it and the emptiness it has brought it of not being able to get close to his fellow men.
Martin Eden’s struggles are not different than what we face when we strive to better ourselves, to escape a hostile environment where people are trying to limit us only to accommodate their own inadequacies.
Once he’d been initiated in the world of thought and reflection, he cannot go back to the previous state of ignorance.
There is no limit to what we can be, do or have and nobody has the right to tell us otherwise.
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