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Martin Eden is a young, hard working man of the working class. After a chance encounter with a beautiful woman of the bourgeoisie, he finds himself in love. In order to win this woman’s approval he decides to educate himself: He corrects his speech, he learns proper manners, and he reads the classics of literature, philosophy, and science.
Eventually they become engaged, and he decides to become a writer. But he’s continually flummoxed by the greedy and unintelligent editors who are incapable of understanding his work, and by a society that values money as the pinnacle of success.
In Martin Eden, Jack London weaves in several details from his own life and experience as an early writer. However, unlike the titular character, a self-described “individualist” and “Nietzsche-man,” London was in reality a vocal socialist, and had intended Martin Eden to be an unflattering caricature of a man who seeks only self-improvement instead of class-improvement. Ironically this was unremarked upon in contemporary reviews. As he inscribed in a copy of the novel given to Upton Sinclair, “One of my motifs, in this book, was an attack on individualism. I must have bungled it, for not a single reviewer has discovered it.”
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