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Martin Eden Character Analysis. Success That Doesn’t Bring Happiness.

Martin Eden character analysis
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The novel Martin Eden by Jack London is one of my favorites. It inspires me with the determination and faith of its main character and gives a lot of food for thought because the story is ambiguous.

I was thrilled when the film adaptation came out in 2019. Martin Eden looks like a movie from the 1960s-1980s. This film could have been accidentally seen on TV at night. 

Today, I want to write Martin Eden character analysis. Could the story end differently?

Martin Eden character analysis
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Martin Eden plot.

So, Jack London tried to convey everything boiling in himself and society through this semi-biographical novel. Let us recall the plot. 

A young sailor, Martin, accidentally meets a wealthy and privileged family. The hero begins the path to self-improvement, inspired by the attention of a young girl, the daughter of the house’s owner. Martin is intensively engaged in self-education and discovers his gift for writing along the way. But when his many years of efforts bear fruit, Martin will be completely disillusioned with creativity, love, and society. Devastated, Martin chooses death.

This film smelled of the sea and sea docks, the paper of old books and coal in the smelter, rubbish from a junk shop, and village fields. Against this background, fragile young love blooms especially brightly and does not leave you indifferent.

Pietro Marcello filmed the whole movie as classic Italian cinema- a beautiful picture, excellent musical accompaniment and superb acting.

I want to mention Luca Marinelli, who endowed his character with simplicity and charisma, which was pleasant to watch throughout the film. His Martin Eden is both a proletarian and an intellectual, down-to-earth and sophisticated – exactly what is needed.

Martin Eden character analysis
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Martin Eden character analysis.

Let’s figure out why the life of a young and healthy young man ended in tragedy and what themes are voiced in the film and the novel.


Martin evokes sympathy from the very beginning of the story. He appears before you as a kind and unbridled sailor who does not “fit in” with the luxurious life of an intelligent family. After falling in love with Elena, he strives to become part of the elite surroundings.

Martin relied only on himself and his work on his way to Olympus as a writer. He tirelessly studies literature, regularly visits the public library, learns new words and their meanings, and is full of energy and unconditional self-confidence, as well as driven by purpose. On the advice of Elena, Martin also intensively studies grammar to improve his speech and make it correct, to get rid of jargon and rudeness. 

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Martin studies day and night, reducing his sleep to a minimum and lamenting the fact that he needs sleep at all. The key point here is that he absorbs knowledge with genuine interest and the first attempts at writing flow from under his hand. Martin has something to share with the world. He wants to talk about life as it is, as he saw it: beautiful and terrible.

But no one believes in his success, not even Elena, even though she helps him master his speech. The only one who is confident Martin will achieve heights in writing, despite all the failures, is himself.

Martin Eden’s inner strength and perseverance are one of the main inspiring components of the novel. The hero knows that he does not want to be an ordinary worker. He wants to forge his destiny and does this without relying on anyone. At the same time, the fuel of his persistent work is love, and only for the sake of it does he strive for glory. It is also one of the key moments of history.

Martin did not become arrogant after he became famous. On the contrary, he does not enjoy the enthusiastic reactions of critics and readers or the enormous fees for publishing his works.

But the more attention he paid to his inner world, the more contradictions he discovered within himself. Those questions to which he could not find an answer forced him to find himself at the bottom of the ocean.

Martin Eden character analysis
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The absolute driving force in the novel is love. As I said above, only deep affection encouraged Martin to act. In the end, however, we understand that Martin did not love Elena herself, but only her beauty, humility, and everyday life together. 

She didn’t share his ideas but did not particularly blame him. When high society and her family started to reject her lover, a stumbling block arose in Elena’s feelings. She was willing to overlook Martin’s flaws (his expressiveness and lack of a steady job) and let him make mistakes, but she was powerless against others rejecting him.

Her bourgeois upbringing limited her in this, and although she partially went against it, she was still unable to go all the way. The lack of life experience did not allow her to feel Martin fully.

Martin Eden character
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Life’s path.

Jack London asks us: is financial well-being and recognition from others crucial for a happy life?

Martin would probably have lived a pleased life as a sailor. He would have enough money for entertainment and basic material goods. Perhaps he would have found a wife in a simple and kind girl. 

Martin longed with all his heart to return to his former life after becoming a famous writer. After his path to fame, he could no longer enjoy parties and celebrations. The position he achieved with great difficulty did not give him any joy.

Education led Martin to an unexpected result, namely the collapse of ideas and expectations and a rethinking of the surrounding reality. Nobody told him the well-known folk wisdom: the less you know, the more soundly you sleep.

And although Martin was not without a certain arrogance, he was still sincere and good-natured. Martin exalted the idea over form, but education showed him that in the world around him, form prevails over content. And this applies, of course, not only to art.

Martin Eden character analysis
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The situation in which Martin found himself shows us that you can be lonely even when the attention and approval of others surround you. Loneliness is not so much the absence of people around you but the absence of those who can truly understand you.

Martin’s image is tragic. I think this hero shows the features of a new person who is replacing people whose souls are crippled by the world of possessive relationships. The talent of the young writer contains a new perception of the world.

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What happens at the end of Martin Eden?   

The trouble is that, having become a superman, Martin, in fact, ceased to be a man. And he became more vulnerable than any of the ordinary, far from imperfect people, having lost the meaning in his further existence.

It has become difficult for the hero to be in the world where he achieved recognition. He can’t breathe surrounded by philistines and businessmen and is not attracted to comfort and convenience. In addition, he has lost both his friend and his lover. Martin dooms himself to voluntary death.

Martin merges with the ocean – a powerful natural element that symbolizes the environment from which he came, where the roots nourished his artistry.

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Could the story end differently?

Why does Martin Eden repel and attract at the same time? The hero is penniless but damn handsome. He is not educated but is endowed with natural intelligence. He is cruel but passionate. Finally, he was a simple sailor but became a famous writer.

But it didn’t bring him so much satisfaction that a special term even appeared. In psychology, there is such a concept as “Martin Eden Syndrome“, attributed by psychophysiologists Rotenberg and Arshavsky to the achievement of depression. Frustration denotes disappointment and boredom after achieving a long-awaited goal.

I think that Martin Eden would do well to see a good psychotherapist. You can commit suicide any day. You can put this matter aside and try to correct the situation. You can find another goal to keep yourself busy.

Why is it worth emulating Martin Eden?

Martin Eden is a man who combines the best qualities, such as determination, willpower, self-confidence and talent. These qualities helped him achieve his dream. Everything is possible!


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Martin Eden character analysis
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Final words.

I hope this Martin Eden movie review was useful for you. I think Pietro Marcello’s film is the best version of the book.

The movie is worth watching to look at Jack London a little differently and because of the excellent performance of Luca Marinelli, the excellent stylization of interiors and costumes from a century ago. And also to feel the existential sadness of a man who wanted to conquer time—but time covered him with its wave.

Share this blog post if you enjoyed it. I would really appreciate it!   

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I`m in love with movies and psychology. Here I write how we can use movies for healing and self-growth. Also, be sure to check out my movie lists. You will find cool suggestions for movie night.

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Good Movie Finder


I`m in love with movies and psychology. Here I write how we can use movies for healing and self-growth. Also, be sure to check out my movie lists. You will find cool suggestions for movie night.

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