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Mark Olival-Bartley studied applied linguistics at Hawaii Pacific University, attaining B.A. and M.A. degrees in TESOL, and poetry at the City College of New York. He is now anatomizing the prosody of E. A. Robinson’s sonnets for his dissertation at Amerika Institut of LMU Munich, where also he edits a poetry weekly. His poems and translations have appeared in journals on both sides of the Atlantic. He is the resident poet at EcoHealth, where his science-themed verse is regularly featured, and a senior copyeditor of Review of International American Studies.


Amerikahaus Literary Circle: 6 April 2016

Discussion Questions for Martin Eden by Jack London

1.  Did you enjoy the book?  What were its lasting impressions? 

2.  Have you read other works by Jack London?  If so, how does Martin Eden compare with them?

3.  Much has been made of the autobiographical elements of the novel—like Eden, London was born in Oakland, worked as a sailor, and learned to write through reading at the public library and a prodigious effort of sheer willpower.  The hero, like the author, goes through a number of permutations before the novel’s end.  How did his artistic evolution strike you?  Which Martin Eden garnered your interest?

4.  The two main characters—Martin and Ruth—are a study in contrasts of gender, class, and education.  To what effect does Jack London use them by way of social critique?

5.  London’s prose is impeccably punctuated; it’s also richly evocative, sensuously musical, and burgeoning with eidetic visions that are a veritable pleasure to read.  If Martin’s apprenticeship is indeed autobiographical, rendered independently of both education and community, what does this say about the author’s genius or the true nature by which good writing is attained?

6.  Consider the characters of Jim, Joe Dawson, Will Olney, Russ Brissenden, and Mr. Butler:  How do they reflect upon and foreshadow the evolution of Martin Eden? 

7.  In a like way, consider Ruth against the backdrop of the other female characters—Mrs. Morse, Maria Silva, and Lizzie Connolly.  How did Martin’s growth of character alter his perceptions of the women in his life?

8.  As with Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Martin Eden concludes with a suicide by drowning.  The famous absence of the final period is, perhaps, telling.  What did you make of the end?

9.  Something I really enjoyed about this novel was the way Jack London would recycle pet phrases or in-jokes of the characters throughout the plot (as with Martin Eden’s “make it good” or Mr. Butler’s dyspepsia).  What elements of London's style did you enjoy?

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