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Huckleberry Finn and What Makes an American
What Makes Twain's Huckleberry Finn American?
"Those canonic ideals -- self-government, equal opportunity, freedom of speech and association, a belief in progress, were first proclaimed during the era of the Revolution and the early republic and have developed more expansive meanings since then," these are the basic core ideals which make something truly American (Kazin & McCartin 1). The freedom to live as we want, say what we want, and govern ourselves -- these are what make us Americans in culture and ideology. In literature, these core elements are also often what define a book or character as truly American. Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn adheres to the very ideals of what it is to be an American, which is what makes the work and its author truly Americanized in style and content.
One of the most important ideals in the concept of Americanism is the idea of liberty. Freedom at all costs has been embedded into the American ideology since the Revolution, and continues to shape modern politics and culture today. Mark Twain embodies this concept with his main character of Huckleberry Finn. In Twain's work, "Huck strikes out for an absolute freedom" (Jehlen 1). This is not a freedom with limitations, or a freedom based on the context of what Huck's parents allow him to do. No, this is absolute and individualistic freedom. In fact, "freedom appears to be a single concept, in fact one that can unite individuals as different as black and white," (Jehlen 1). Huck's freedom is so dear to him that he runs off into nature, which is a common element seen in American literature throughout this nation's founding (Jehlen 1). This also ties the ideal American with his strong connections to the natural land around him. He is a product of the wide open possibilities of the vast space that is the continental United States. Both Huck and Jim find a kind of comfort in nature that they are unable to find in the turbulent and hypocritical society they are products of. Huck would rather be on the fringe of society enjoying his freedom, than being restricted by a hypocritical society which aims to limit the freedom he can enjoy, "Jim this is nice, […] I wouldn't want to be anywhere else but here," (Twain 68). Huck embodies the idea of being completely free, and this is one of the biggest elements which tie him to the ideal image of Americanism in literature and culture.
Despite Huck Finn's seemingly destructive nature, he is truly an American hero in that he exhibits a number of positive personal qualities. He is unprejudiced and kindhearted, making him the ideal heroic figure for a period of time when the rest of the country, and world for that matter, was in a state of uncertainty. In this, his character is advocating equal opportunity and liberty for all, not just a select few. He consistently helps Jim, despite the fact that he is a black man. Huck risks his life and freedom to help the runaway slave Jim, he saves his life on the raft and he helps him escape from capture on numerous occasions. Most notably, Huck helps Jim escape instead of staying with Tom Sawyer and Miss Watson. This act of leaving with Jim shows how Huck really cares for his well being, unlike Tom who was just so caught up in the fun of the action.
Most of all, Huck is an honest character, who advocates the ability for all Americans to live their own lives. His honesty and kindness distinguish him from all the other characters in the book, "There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth," (Twain 1).
Overall, his unparalleled kindness helps expose the hypocrisy in the rest of American society. Twain shows the hypercritical nature of American society in contrast to Huck's own kindness. Many politicians try to force citizens to embody limited notions of Americanism, which harkens to their hypocrisy. Yet, "a reassertion of Americanism was not always intended to produce political conformity […] dissenters could appropriate the national faith as readily as conservatives" (Kazin & McCartin 4). Through Huck, Twain…[continue]
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