What Does Being A True American Mean For Huckleberry Finn? Essay Samples
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Most people see the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as nothing but a mere story about a runaway boy who meets another runaway boy or rather a runaway slave, Jim, and their road trips and adventures together. While this may be the case, it only shows the superficial parts of the story because there are a lot possible inferences and interpretations that one can obtain just by reading this piece of Mark Twain’s work. The book was first published by Mark Twain in the United Kingdom in 1884. It got so popular among readers, mainly because there were practically limited forms of hobbies during that time and reading books and novels appear one of the most practical choices of hobby back then, that it was released in the United States the following year. Again, it got so popular that it was later on named as one of the quintessential American novels; some would also say that it is among the Great American Novels, and one of the first major American literary works that have been written throughout using vernacular English or using the English that was used in the people of that time’s everyday life. The main protagonist in the story was of course, as the title of the book would suggest, Huckleberry Finn who is more famously known and addressed as Huck. It is important to note that the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was a sequel to another popular story of a boy named Tom Sawyer from the book the Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
The book was set in the Mississippi River, one of the busiest places in the Southern part of the country. It is, however, important to note that the place did not exist twenty years before the book was published. The novel’s genre is more of a satire because of the funny and oblivious moments between the main characters. The language used by Mark Twain, can be considered vulgar and tactless, especially if we are going to consider the values and norms set during the time that the book was published. This is, in fact, of the reasons why the book has been a stable subject of literary criticism. Terms such as nigger were openly used by Twain something which in a post-slavery era of today, may be deemed unacceptable. The main objective of this paper, however, is to relate Americanism or its essence to Huckleberry Finn, specifically, to describe what being an American meant for him. In order to do that, we have to know who Huckleberry Finn is. Huck Finn is a body who is in his early teenage years.
His age was not specified in any part of the book but based on his behavior, and how he was portrayed by Mark Twain, he must be between thirteen to fifteen years old. His father, who is famously known as the town drunk, was the one who raised him. Because of the rather unorthodox manner in which he was raised, Huck Finn had a hard time fitting into the different facets of society. Fortunately, he did not grow up without friends. He became friends with Tom Sawyer, the main character in the book’s prequel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Another character from the book whose identity is worth mentioning would be Huck Finn’s friend Jim. Jim was Miss Watson’s slave. Jim and Huck Finn basically became tight friends when the two met and agreed to run away in an island where Miss Watson and Huck Finn’s father could not find them. There they engaged in numerous adventures as they travelled on the Mississippi River. And lastly, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn’s best friend and the main character in Mark Twain’s previous book, who is also known as the best fighter and the most intelligent kid in town.
One of the major themes in the story was Freedom. Huck Finn left their home and his father because he wanted to live his own life and be free. The same is actually true for Jim. He wanted to stop being a slave and be free as well. There are many ways how this major theme can be interpreted. Slavery can easily be traced in America’s history. It served as Great Britain’s colony during the era of the American War of Independence. Although the Americans during that time were not slaves, they practically were. They were the ones who were doing all the hard work required to make the United Kingdom richer. They were the ones who farm lands, craft different stuff, and they were also the ones who pay some of the heaviest taxes.
In essence, America’s being a colony of the United Kingdom was practically the same with being a slave. According to an article published in the Library of Congress, “African Americans had been enslaved in what became the United States since early in the 17th century; even so, by the time of the American Revolution and eventual adoption of the new Constitution in 1787, slavery was actually a dying institution and as part of the compromises that allowed the constitution to be written and adopted, the founders agreed to end the importation of slaves into the United States by 1808” . Also in the same source, it has been said that during the early part of the first half of the 19th century, “African American slavery was once again a thriving institution, especially in the Southern United States and one of the primary reasons for the reinvigoration of slavery was the invention and rapid widespread adoption of the cotton gin” . This information as presented in that article can was, in fact, depicted in Mark Twain’s novel. Jim was an African American boy who was sold as a slave to Miss Watson.
It can indeed be said that American history is significantly filled with slavery and it only makes sense for them to want to be free from that bondage. Aside from the African American slave trade, the United States was practically enslaved by the English when it was under its occupation. According to an article published in BBC’s website, “In 1774, war broke out between the British and the American colonists; by 1776, the colonists had declared themselves independent and in 1783, following a prolonged and bloody war, Britain was forced to recognize the independence of the United States” . In that same source, it has been said that “had American independence not been inevitable then a political settlement would have been found between 1765 and 1775” . After all, the American war of independence was inevitable and America was set to become an independent nation, free from the bondage of slavery and oppression.
In an article published in the Cato Institute’s website, one author said that “America is a unique country, founded on the principle that we are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” . “Polls suggest that Americans still love liberty but with curious contradictions as some 56 percent of the population would say that they would favor a smaller government with fewer services rather than a larger government with more services” . One of the founding principles of America, specifically before it got its independence from its colonists was liberty, which is basically a more complex form of freedom, which as mentioned earlier, only makes sense because after all, the country’s history has been marred with decades of slavery and oppression.
Hartley and William (1974) wrote an article about the rights and freedoms of Americans. In that article, it can be found that majority of the entries written in the bill of rights pertain to freedom. Some of the most pertinent examples were freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of petition, saying that in the drafting of the constitution, “most of the Founding Fathers believed that the safeguards written into it would protect the rights of Americans” . However, when the first draft of the constitution was finally rolled out, a great roar of disappointment and disapproval went up across colony states. Representatives from the state of Virginia, for example, protested against the lack of specific provisions on American rights and freedom and so as a result, the founding members were forced to include an addendum that is the declaration of the rights and freedoms of Americans in the constitution because “a number of states ratified the constitution only conditionally”, which meant that they would only adhere to the ratification of the constitution if certain conditions would be met .
Based on this information, it can be said that Americans have been so in live with different forms of rights and freedom during the time when the constitution was still being drafted. It is important to note that Mark Twain’s novel, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published roughly one hundred years after the war between Britain and American broke out. Something tells us that Mark Twain intended to show that even after roughly a hundred years since America got its independence, its identity is still tarnished with hints of slavery. It must be said that the very reason why the continental army—the one which led America’s war of independence was to set America free from being a slave to the English colonists that occupied their country and practically enslaved its people for so many years, and yet even a hundred years after that goal has already been achieved, there were still African American slaves being traded openly in some American territories. The story of Huckleberry Finn and his slave friend Jim can attest to that.
Some authors suggest that America fought hard to be declared independent from any bondage or subject, or in the case of its history, from slavery, but what should have been a simple road to freedom eventually led the American people into Fascism. This is why; freedom of the American people has been contested especially decades after the U.S. declared that it was finally free from British Occupation and colonization.
It is important to note that freedom of the American people is essentially different from the freedom of the country. Freedom of the country most likely pertains to independence or the characteristic of not being a subject to any country’s control; freedom of the people, on the other hand, pertains to the real quality of freedom, something which despite being an independent country already, was not present at that point of American history (the point where Huck Finn and his slave friend, Jim, existed). In an article published by the Columbia University Press, it has been said that “the declaration of independence lists liberty among mankind’s inalienable rights”; “the constitution announces securing liberty’s blessings as its purpose” and that “the United States fought the civil war to bring about a new birth of freedom” .
However, as mentioned earlier, the declaration of independence did not really serve as a guarantee for the Americans that they would finally be freed from the bondage of slavery as evidenced by the still strong presence of slave traders during that time. This is one of the reasons, why even after almost one century since America got its independence from its colonists, people like Huck Finn and his friend Jim, still existed. That only showed that America never really got its freedom because the country itself served as one of the main avenues of slavery during the time of Huckleberry Finn and Jim. It also showed that the constitution and the rights of the Americans were not really honored even after almost a century since it was ratified by the states that joined the coalition to overthrow the British colonists. Indeed, contests to American freedom and independence have a strong basis for their arguments because though being an independent country already, there were still a lot of slaves being transported to the U.S. to be abused and oppressed.
In summary, Huck Finn had this subconscious perception that being an American should mean obtaining liberty and freedom. He knew very well that during his time, America was already a free and independent country but what makes him and also his friend Jim wonder, is why there were still people who were being sold into slavery, despite the presence of the constitution’s provisions for American rights and freedoms. Also, the country and the policy makers during that time were not able to live up to the expectations set by ordinary people like Huck Finn because although he cannot technically consider himself as a slave, he was still bound by the very constraints that a slave has; that is, the inability to decide for himself. The same is, in fact, true for his friend Jim, who despite his young age has been sold into slavery.
Their adventures along the Mississippi River can be interpreted as their desperate effort to live up to their expectations on being an American. Nobody knows whether at their young age they already knew that they were supposed to be free—because America is an independent country after all, but based on their actions—especially their flying away from their respective homes to travel along the Mississippi River, they knew that to be able to call themselves true Americans (at least during their time of existence which is some time during the latter half of the 19th century), they had to feel the freedom that comes with it. Unfortunately, they could only feel such freedom after leaving home and living a life of their own.
Cogliano, F. "Was the American Revolution Inevitable." BBC (2011).
Foner, E. "The Contested History of American Freedom." Digital History (n.d.).
Hartley, W. and W. Vincent. "The Rights and Freedoms of Americans." Tep-Online (1974).
Hudgins, E. "Do Americans Still Value Freedom." Cato Institute (2001).
U.S. Library of Congress. "Pre-Civil War African-American Slavery." U.S. Library Of Congress (2014).
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