By Eric Homberger
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Additional info for American Writers and Radical Politics, 1900–39: Equivocal Commitments
II The stockyards had been for two decades the scene of intense labour struggles, but Sinclair seems to have known nothing of the background of the Upton Sinclair 39 situation in 1904. There had been two general strikes. One, in 1886, was led by the Knights of Labor and resulted in the complete destruction of the union movement in the stockyards and packing houses. For fifteen years union members were hounded and eliminated from the industry. The second major strike, in 1894, was spontaneous and unorganized.
She first saw in Everhard 'a natural aristocrat ... in spite of the fact that he was in the camp of the non-aristocrats'. The changes in Avis, both those forced upon her and those which emerged out of her situation, seem to have been ignored by most readers. As a result, the ambiguity of London's novel has not been correctly understood. Ernest Everhard reverts to the background. It is Avis who betrays the movement. The mutual penetration of revolutionaries and Oligarchs, the changes of physical identity and political loyalties, and the reversal of roles between opponents, do much to cloud the moral atmosphere so clearly drawn in the first half of the book.
It is a very American preoccupation: the hero experiences a 'success' tainted by symbolic personal failure and frustration, as well as ethical disintegration. But London's book is almost wholly without the ironic distance. The story was too closely modelled upon London's own career and temperament, and the emotions it aroused were too painfully subjective, to acquire that high finish of ironic perspective. Written at the height ofJack London's power as a novelist, Martin Eden is a book of 'quivering sensibilities'.