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Herein is composed a character who captures the internal conflict that would identify America on its path to Civil War.
In Twain's work, Huck emerges as a figure whose behavior and ideology are stimulated by a discomfort with the circumstances constraining him. Though painted as a portrait of one young man, the adventures which give the novel its title are actually a series of events wherein Huck brazenly flouts the standards which had given the pre-Civil War delta its cultural outlook. His flight to freedom is guided by the juxtaposed but equally inapt incarcerations which he endured both at the pious hands of the Widow Douglas and the abusive hands of his drunken father. Certainly, his staged death and his river-raft escape here would be explicit forms of active protest to the church-going morality of the former and the violent authority of the latter. In both, we see the religious and militaristic devices of patronage that would be America's alternating calling cards.
But on a more poignant scale, the novel centers on Huck's companionship to Jim. The fugitive slave partners with Huck on his excursion and the two become a crucial support system to one another, demonstrating Twain's disregard for the senseless separation between blacks and whites. On the run and out of contact with mainstream southern society through most of their journey, the two forge a meaningful friendship which is enabled by their distance from the severely enforced subjugation of blacks. Twain's protest is embodied in his complete dismissal of the inequality which was considered a manifestation of natural law to its advocates.
It is from this impulse which the work derives its pointedly American identity. Amid the backdrop of the farms, deltas and woods of a rural nation which is very much in our past, the work is carried by descriptive attention to the delicacies, family-structures and habitations of Southern life. Given over to a quaint and often charming simplicity of lifestyle, Twain's vision and his chosen exploration of the unrefined southern dialect both conjure an America which has been relegated only to literary account since abolition. By contrast to this mode of rebellion, T.S. Eliot's the Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock shows a figure whose resistance to the cold mores of America would be a profound romanticizing of individuality. As the narrator, Prufrock is a conflicted character, suggestive of what Eliot thinks of the condition of each man.
Prufrock is deserving of scorn for being naive and self-indulgent as he criticizes his reader. He is, however, also admirable for his unabashed passion. His message is directed at mankind, and specifically addresses what he views as the ignorance of most men to the greater meanings that are at the foundations of our lives. He speaks of himself as though he has a unique knowledge of the deeper meanings of life, offering the observation that most men are content to experience common lives without asking the difficult questions about their purpose.
The narrator is clearly in love with somebody, and maybe as a result, shows a childlike personality, but still interested in his own heightened level of knowing.
He claims boldly, "for I have known them all already, known them all-- / Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons / I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;" (Eliot, 1)
This is a statement which he makes to give reason for his critical remarks about the human condition. Struck by the sense that most individuals are not really serious enough to ask questions about their own purpose and about the rightness of their actions, Prufrock is almost ridiculing his audience. A wake-up call, as it were, the poet convicts his broad audience to take into consideration the complicated themes which he talks about his poem. As a closing statement in this discussion, the Eliot poem does indeed point to the conflict between American culture and individual identity, recognizing the need for some emotional cross-section between them during this tumultuous period of transition.
Chopin, Kate. (1898). The Storm. About Literature. Online at http://classiclit.about.com/library/bl-etexts/kchopin/bl-kchop-thestorm.htm
Eliot, T.S. (1917). The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock. The Egoist.
Robinson, E.A. (1921). Mr. Flood's Party. Web Books. Online at http://www.web-books.com/Classics/Poetry/Anthology/Robinson_E/MrFlood.htm
Twain, Mark. (1884). The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Charles L. Webster and Co.[continue]
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