27 September 2014
While reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn we assessed Huck as a character who is grounded by a moral center. We observe Huck constantly consulting his moral compass as he searches for truth amidst the confusion of deep-rooted societal conventions. Here, Twain is suggesting that, as humans, we all inherently possess a moral compass. In this same regard, he is also saying that because the things that we may have been taught or not been taught are no longer significant, we are obligated to live moral lives. Interestingly, in “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” King talks about this sense of internal conflict and confusion that Huck experiences. King explains, “there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth…Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal”(King 2). Both Twain and King are encouraging us to rely on our “gut feelings” in order to decipher right from wrong, regardless of what society might impose.
Similarly, in Peter-Hans Kolvenbach’s essay, “The Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice in American Jesuit Higher Education”, Kolvenbach identifies the human heart as our vehicle for change explaining that we must travel deep within ourselves in order to find the capacity and willingness to generate universal love. Through isolating the human heart, Kolvenbach--once again--is indicating that as humans we are innately capable of both recognizing and preventing social injustices. Kolvenbach asserts, “We can no longer pretend that the inequalities and injustices of our world must be…part of the inevitable order of things,”(Kolvenbach 32) but rather suggests that we question conventional understandings of society and work towards changing them.
In addition, by the end of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, we notice that Twain redefines the conventional sense of the word “freedom”. Twain, instead, suggests that freedom is only achieved through recognizing the humanity in others and through treating others with compassion. More specifically, Jim’s selfless act, the compassion he shows towards Tom, despite Tom’s cruelty allows him to remain free. While on the other hand, Tom’s conniving and deceptive ways—his disregard for others—ultimately leave him a slave: a man denied of his freedom. In this sense, then, Kolvenbach and Twain are saying very similar things. Kolvenbach also emphasizes a need for recognition of humanity and compassion, he explains, “[we] all aspire to live life, to use [our] talents, to support [our] families and care for [our] children and elders, to enjoy peace and security, and to make tomorrow better”(32). Here, Kolvenbach is establishing the commonalities that exist between all humans—despite racial (and other social) differences.
After reading both essays (for a third time) in addition to reading Huck Finn, I feel that the most important question that is addressed by all three of the authors is: how can we advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? Although this question is overwhelmingly complex, it is most clearly answered in King’s text. King answers this question by explaining the difference between just and unjust laws. He explains that we must practice discernment wisely and joyfully by use of our moral compasses in order to achieve social justice. In addition, he explains that as humans we all have a moral responsibility and therefore we are obligated to disobey the laws that we believe to be unjust; we are obligated to create (necessary) tension. In doing so, we are working towards achieving universal love and compassion, which-- according to Twain--ultimately grants us the gift of freedom.