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The Iron Heel

By Edited Feb 24, 2014 1 1

A Radical Novel Review

 The thematic aspects of a radical novel rest with the author’s objection to the human suffering imposed by some socio-economic system.  Furthermore, the author also advocates that the system be fundamentally changed.  Similarly, a radical is an individual who rejects the acceptance of a socio-economic society.  He or she also wants to completely change the current situation no matter the personal cost.  The notion that a radical wants to induce change in a system is portrayed through the imagery of blood and blood-shed in the radical novel The Iron Heel by Jack London.

Specifically, the revolutionists wish to change the system of the Oligarchy oppressing the working class while the working class performs all the labor for the Oligarchy.  The imagery of blood and blood-shed is used to show the Oligarchy’s ignorance of the lower class’ struggles, the working class’ role of maintaining a civilization, and the response of the Oligarchy to the revolution of the working class.

The first usage of blood in The Iron Heel comes from the working class’ poor working conditions.  Avis, after hearing the story of the laborer Jackson losing his arm and not receiving any compensation, recants to Ernest her investigation in the matter.  “He seems to have been badly treated… I think some of his blood is dripping from our roof-beams.” (44) 

In this excerpt, Avis is referring to two things.  The first topic Avis addresses is the lack of compensation Jackson received for losing his arm in a machine accident at one of the mills.  The second part of this quote is the most important part.  This deals with the image of blood.  The quote “some of his blood is dripping from our roof-beams” reflects Avis’ discovery that her upper class world is not what it once seemed.  Before conducting her investigation in the matter of Jackson’s arm, Avis was a high class woman who spent her life surrounded by fine and luxurious belongings.  However, she now realizes that all of the nice things she owns come from the exploitation of the working class.  Even the house she lives in was constructed under poor working condition by the blood, sweat, and tears of the lower class.  This discovery leads to Avis becoming a radical herself and adopting the vow of a radical: not to accept a socio-economic society.

London’s next main usage of the image of blood and blood-shed comes in the rationalization that it is in fact the lower class that maintains civilization for the Oligarchy.  Ernest, having just heard Avis’ retelling of her investigation, proclaims to Avis, “Our boasted civilization is based upon blood, soaked in blood, and neither you nor I nor any of us can escape the scarlet stain.” (45) 

Like Avis’ realization that her house was built upon the exploitation of the working class, so is society built upon the blood shed by the working class.  Ernest believes that the Oligarchy, ‘boasting’ their civilization, is reaping all the benefits of the creations of the lower classes.  However, the most interesting portion of this excerpt is the notion that no one can escape the scarlet stain.  Even though Ernest himself is a radical and is pushing for a change in the system, he can see that it is almost impossible to ever completely escape the notion that there will always be blood shed when trying to create a civilization.

The image of blood and blood-shed comes into play at the climax at the novel.  Here, we find Avis and Ernest both in the middle of the city of Chicago, “the city of blood” (221) about to overthrow the Oligarchy.  At this time, the revolutionists plan to destroy the city through bombing and shooting all of the Oligarchy’s agents.  However, the revolutionists are unsuccessful in their attempt.  The imagery of blood-shed is portrayed during the scene in which Avis stumbled upon a fallen woman comrade who was “laying on the pavement, in a pool of [her own] blood.” (230) 

This crucial image of a radical who has given her life for the cause emphasizes the power the Oligarchy has over the radicals.  The revolutionists greatly outnumber the upper class but the upper class control the military, media, and the judicial systems; all three systems having great power and authority over the masses.  No matter, this image of a woman dying for her cause demonstrates what great lengths the radicals are willing to go to order to achieve their purpose.  We can see clearly the relationship between the thematic aspects of radicalism, where the revolutionists are willing to give all they have for their cause; and the imagery of blood-shed used in the novel.

The essential thematic aspect of a radical novel is that the author does not accept a certain system or practice and wishes to change it.  In the radical novel The Iron Heel, author Jack London uses the imagery of blood to portray how he believes the system should be changed.  Specifically, London uses blood to show the abusive conditions of the working class, the notion that the working class is what really supports a society, and the way the Oligarchy has power over the working class.  We discover that it is not the imagery of blood itself that causes the change but it is the source of blood loss that brings about changes.  Through the loss of blood and the fact that the revolutionists are willing to shed their own blood for their cause strongly reflects the synthesis of a radical and the theme of this radical novel.




Aug 11, 2011 3:51pm
Very good view of a novel I've yet to read. Thanks!
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