Monday, January 20, 2014

Surprise, Surprise, Alex comes up with another allegory

I’m not sure what it is about this book and allegories, but I seem to see them everywhere.  After finishing Huck Finn, I was a little disappointed to see that there was no concrete resolution.  The novel’s ending makes Huck’s and Jim’s, and even for a little while, Tom’s adventures seem pointless.  The reader is left with this feeling of “now what?”, and the adventures, which once seemed exciting and purposeful, are rendered pointless and foolhardy.    

In the novel’s last few chapters, we learn that Miss Watson is dead and that she has set Jim free in her will.  Because he was actually free all along, Huck and Tom’s grand scheme to release Jim from captivity, now seems dangerously foolish.  The boys’ impish behavior is egregiously displayed around Tom’s neck, as he wears the bullet that struck his leg during the “game” of Jim’s escape.  It seems too, that Huck has learned nothing from his adventures.  In fact, he seems to have regressed.  Once mature and discerning, Huck is now ready to engage in more reckless behavior, including “howling adventures amongst the Injuns” (295).  Judging by the way Huck continually fought the moral implications of his actions, I was prepared for him to become some sort of advocate for African Americans by the end of the novel.  Instead, he’s ready to adventure off with the Native American Indians, another group whose rights have been continually violated by the whites.  Huck is no moral beacon.  He’s just some vagabond kid who will do anything for some fun.   

My disappointment in the second half of the novel really left me questioning Twain’s motives.  Why write a story if the main character doesn’t even experience growth or change?  But in asking myself this question, I came to realize that Twain’s novel is no bildungsroman, but instead an allegorical criticism of American society.  Written over twenty years after the end of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn serves as a commentary on American society.  Huck’s lack of growth represents this stagnant time in American history.  Huck and Jim embark on a grand adventure, often risking their lives in order for Huck to escape his father and Jim to escape his status as a slave.  When the novel ends, we discover that Jim has been free all along, and that Huck’s father is actually dead, and no longer a threat towards him.  The risky maneuvers they made along the way now seem pointless, and rather foolish.  In a similar way, The United States took on the burden of war, and President Lincoln declared the slaves free, but nothing about the proceedings of everyday American life changed.  Whites still acted with superiority, while blacks were still mistreated despite their freedom.  Just like Huck and Jim’s adventure, the Civil War, at least through Twain’s eyes, seemed pointless.   

Ironically, on a day in which we commemorate the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Twain’s message strikes an even deeper chord.  As a country that, on the surface, seems to be living in a post-racial society, we must ask ourselves if the values and social ideals of Twain’s time have really changed, or just rearranged.   

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