Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Analysis of the Apostate

Jack London's "The Apostate" is a story that gives insight into a young boy's life. The boy is tired, disillusioned and worked extremely hard in the factory.

The story started out very specific, describing one day in Johnny's life, moving on to a more general view of previous jobs and sicknesses, and finishing specific again with Johnny getting sick again (he had been sick before) and deciding not to work anymore. When the one day is being described, in the morning Johnny is resistant to being woken, and is fed a meager breakfast and coffee which is really quite horrible,but that he believes is good. By the time he is on the way to work, he is accepting and is just one of the many faces in the crowd heading to work. This may symbolize the facelessness of the working class to everyone not in it. To someone who wasn't involved in the factory work, and actually even to those in it, the workers were faceless - just another part of the machines. I think the actual conflict was Human vs. Society, because of Johnny's inability to escape his situation for years. He had to work to earn money to feed the family, which was an example of the society and culture that London was portraying. The climax was when Johnny got sick. Things could not get worse than they were - he couldn't get any more tired and couldn't become any more efficient or a part of the machines. To resolve the conflict, Johnny broke the cycle he was in and decided he wasn't going to work anymore - he was just going to rest. So the story ended with him being as happy as it was possible to be coming from his circumstances.

The setting physically varied between the mill where he worked and the small house where he lived with his family. His home was full of broken, dirty things, which didn't bother him because he had never known any differently. The mill was nothing but the machines and their unvarying routine - this didn't bother him as it once had because he had become a sort of machine himself. The social setting was the very bottom of the working class, where people were forced to scrape for every meal and every day's wages. Children went hungry, and parents went hungry trying to keep their children from going hungry. Workers worked from before dawn to after dark and did so unfeelingly and totally accepting.

The protagonist was Johnny. There were actually several antagonists which were flat characters. They were his work, his brother Will, and, in a way, his mother. His job opposed him in obvious ways. It wore him down every day, physically and mentally, until he was little more than a shell. His brother was better fed, and therefore in better health, went to school, and was favored by the mother. He (Will) was or was becoming everything that Johnny could not. This bothered Johnny to a degree mentally, until he just couldn't care anymore. His mother was an opposing factor because she favored Will and her other children, and didn't really have any concern for her eldest son's welfare. She kind of considered him the means to provide for the family (especially Will - she wanted him to be a bookkeeper) regardless of how much it wore him (Johnny) down. But Johnny, being the protagonist, in essence "won" against all these opposing factors by leaving his job and his family and resting. He quit the job that had worn him down, his brother would have to go to work, and his mother would have to stop depending on him to provide for his siblings.

The theme of the story was the hardships that the working class faced every day, and what could be a result of overcoming them. Johnny didn't have enough to eat, he had no energy, his job required nothing but physical "machinery" labor from him, and he often got sick from poor working conditions. All these are examples of working class hardships in the period London was writing in. Johnny's disregard for all of it and his choice to leave were his way of overcoming his circumstances. The portrayal of hunger and poor conditions that mill workers lived in was probably a fairly accurate one. London made a clear picture of the lower end of working class life in his time.

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