American Literature 030533/4/5, 7th Nov. 2006
Lecture Seven The American Realism (II) (1865 - 1918)
IV. Regionalism (local color writing) • The concept: • The style of writing derived from the presentation of the features and peculiarities of a particular locality and its inhabitants. Simply it means The use of regional detail in a literary or artistic work. The name is given especially to a kind of American literature that in its most characteristic form made its appearance just after the Civil War and for nearly three decades was the single most popular form of American literature. • Following in the footsteps of the pre-war "sectional humorists," local colorists were interested in realistically depicting life in different sections of the United States in order to promote understanding and unification.
Fiction writers like Sarah Orne Jewett, Bret Harte, O. Henry, and Mark Twain have been identified within this tradition. • By the 1930s, the local color style had spread beyond the bounds of novels and short stories into less formal territory like the "hometown material" section of local newspapers. Local color writing had always been premised on an informal approach and rejection of high-culture concerns. Now it entered mass media.
His Life: • Clemens was born on November 30, 1835 in Florida, Missouri, of a Virginian family. He was brought up in Hannibal, Missouri. After his father's death in 1847, he was apprenticed to a printer and wrote for his brother's newspaper. He later worked as a licensed Mississippi river-boat pilot. The Civil War put an end to the steamboat traffic and Clemens moved to Virginia City, where he edited the Territorial Enterprise. On February 3, 1863, 'Mark Twain' was born when Clemens signed a humorous travel account with that pseudonym.
In 1864 Twain left for California, and worked in San Francisco as a reporter. He visited Hawaii as a correspondent for The Sacramento Union, publishing letters on his trip and giving lectures. He set out on a world tour, traveling in France and Italy. His experiences were recorded in 1869 in The Innocents Abroad, which gained him wide popularity, and poked fun at both American and European prejudices and manners. • The success as a writer gave Twain enough financial security to marry Olivia Langdon in 1870. They moved next year to Hartford. Twain continued to lecture in the United States and England. Between 1876 and 1884 he published several masterpieces, Tom Sawyer (1881) and The Prince And The Pauper (1881). Life On The Mississippi appeared in 1883 and Huckleberry Finn in 1884.
In the 1890s Twain lost most of his earnings in financial speculations and in the failure of his own publishing firm. To recover from the bankruptcy, he started a world lecture tour, during which one of his daughters died. Twain toured New Zealand, Australia, India, and South Africa. He wrote such books as The Tragedy Of Pudd'head Wilson (1884), Personal Recollections Of Joan Of Arc (1885), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889) and the travel book Following The Equator (1897). During his long writing career, Twain also produced a considerable number of essays. • The death of his wife and his second daughter darkened the author's later years, which is seen in his posthumously published autobiography (1924). Twain died on April 21, 1910.
His Works: • The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches (1867) • The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today (1873) • Mark Twain's Sketches: New and Old (1876) • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) • The Prince and the Pauper (1881) • Life on the Mississippi (1883) • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889) • The 1,000,000 Pound Bank-Note, and Other New Stories (1893)
His masterpiece: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn • Much of the book is concerned with Huck’s inner struggle between this sense of guilt in helping Jim to escape and his profound conviction that Jim is a human being. • The book is written in the colloquial style, in the general standard speech of uneducated Americans.
1. Plot Summary- • Huck lives with Miss Watson who is trying to civilize him. He and Tom Sawyer become friends with her slave Jim. Huck's drunk father returns to try and take Huck back, but Huck fakes his own murder and runs away with Jim to a nearby island. Jim and Huck discover a raft, which they make their new home and set out to sail down the Mississippi River where they will both be free. Jim and Huck travel by night to avoid being caught, and sleep out in the woods during the day time. During the journey, Huck and Jim's friendship grows considerably, and the two become like family. Huck and Jim are separated when their raft hits a steamboat and Huck goes ashore to stay with a family, the Grangerford's. Huck soon becomes involved in their ongoing feud and leaves when several family members are killed. Huck also plays with the concept of morality and debates over the question of whether to turn Jim in or risk being shunned by society if he is caught with a runaway.
The Duke and the King soon join Huck and Jim on the raft, and the four scam several cities out of money by performing plays and circuses. They stay at the Wilkes' house where they steal money from a family of girls whose father just died, by pretending to be their uncles. Huck eventually confesses to the girls, and abandons the Duke and the King when they try to sell Jim. • Eventually Huck winds up at Aunt Sally's house and pretends to be Tom Sawyer, who they are expecting. He soon learns that she is keeping Jim hostage until his master comes to get him, and tries to think of a way to free his friend. When the real Tom comes to Aunt Sally's, the two form an intricate plan involving ransom notes and digging holes in order to free Jim. When the plan is activated, Huck and Tom are caught by angry townspeople and are forced to confess their identity and reason for disturbing the slave. Huck learns that Miss Watson set Jim free in her will, and he is no longer a slave. Huck plans to escape being civilized once more, and suggests that he will flee to live in Indian territory.
2. Major Themes • Maturity: Huck is forced to take care of himself because he has no parents. Although he is a young boy, he faces many problems that adults struggle with, and is forced to deal with them maturely. • Friendship: Huck never really had any true friend before Jim, but the time spent with him allowed the two to become very close. • Legality vs. Morality: Huck faces the question of whether he should obey the law and turn in Jim, or if he should risk a bad reputation and keep his friend happy. • Love: Jim loves Huck and he has been a true friend and been through many tough situations. Huck learns to love through his friendship with Jim, who is devoted and willing to do anything for Huck.
Racism: The novel is set in the South. Blacks are slaves with no legal rights and are faced with high degrees of discrimination. Their status is lower than that of a white person, and Huck grows up debating that reality. It is a barrier at first between himself and Jim, which they eventually realize and overcome. • Freedom : Literally, Jim seeks freedom from slavery. Figuratively, Huck seeks to be free, and not have to live in fear of his father, or being civilized. • Lessons: Huck learns that although society has taught him to regard blacks as inferior, he should listen to his own opinion, even if it means sacrificing his reputation and being labeled. He realized this when he befriended Jim and went out of his way to secure Jim's freedom, by risking his own safety and name.
Morals: Huck also learned that although people in his life may have hurt him, he is able to be loved and to love back. He learns this when his friendship with Jim evolves, and they become like family. Huck is able to love Jim back, and is willing to help him escape slave if it will attain happiness. • Applications: Huck realizes that Tom's intricate plans for solving problems sometimes are fun, but are not usually the best answers. Huck is a more realistic character and understands that effort and efficiency are better than confusion and complication. He depicts this when Tom's plan to free Jim becomes involved and eventually backfires. Huck's plan at the beginning was more reasonable, but he used Tom's plan instead.
Conflict between civilization and "natural life": The primary theme of the novel is the conflict between civilization and "natural life." Huck represents natural life through his freedom of spirit, uncivilized ways, and desire to escape from civilization. He was raised without any rules or discipline and has a strong resistance to anything that might "sivilize" him. This conflict is introduced in the first chapter through the efforts of the Widow Douglas: she tries to force Huck to wear new clothes, give up smoking, and learn the Bible. Throughout the novel, Twain seems to suggest that the uncivilized way of life is more desirable and morally superior. Drawing on the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Twain suggests that civilization corrupts, rather than improves, human beings.
Honor: The theme of honor permeates the novel after first being introduced in the second chapter, where Tom Sawyer expresses his belief that there is a great deal of honor associated with thieving. Robbery appears throughout the novel, specifically when Huck and Jim encounter robbers on the shipwrecked boat and are forced to put up with the King and Dauphin, both of whom "rob" everyone they meet. Tom's original robber band is paralleled later in the novel when Tom and Huck become true thieves, but honorable ones, at the end of the novel. They resolve to steal Jim, freeing him from the bonds of slavery, which is an honorable act. Thus, the concept of honor and acting to earn it becomes a central theme in Huck’s adventures.
Food: Food plays a prominent role in the novel. In Huck’s childhood, he often fights pigs for food, and eats out of "a barrel of odds and ends." Thus, providing Huck with food becomes a symbol of people caring for and protecting him. For example, in the first chapter, the Widow Douglas feeds Huck, and later on Jim becomes his symbolic caretaker, feeding and watching over him on Jackson's Island. Food is again discussed fairly prominently when Huck lives with the Grangerford's and the Wilks's.
Mockery of Religion: A theme Twain focuses on quite heavily on in this novel is the mockery of religion. Throughout his life, Twain was known for his attacks on organized religion. Huck Finn’s sarcastic character perfectly situates him to deride religion, representing Twain’s personal views. In the first chapter, Huck indicates that hell sounds far more fun than heaven. Later on, in a very prominent scene, the "King", a liar and cheat, convinces a religious community to give him money so he can "convert" his pirate friends. The religious people are easily led astray, which mocks their beliefs and devotion to God.
Superstition: Superstition appears throughout the novel. Generally, both Huck and Jim are very rational characters, yet when they encounter anything slightly superstitious, irrationality takes over. The power superstition holds over the two demonstrates that Huck and Jim are child-like despite their apparent maturity. In addition, superstition foreshadows the plot at several key junctions. For instance, when Huck spills salt, Pap returns, and when Huck touches a snakeskin with his bare hands, a rattlesnake bites Jim.
Money: The concept of wealth or lack thereof is threaded throughout the novel, and highlights the disparity between the rich and poor. Twain purposely begins the novel by pointing out that Huck has over six thousand dollars to his name; a sum of money that dwarfs all the other sums mentioned, making them seem inconsequential in contrast. Huck demonstrates a relaxed attitude towards wealth, and because he has so much of it, does not view money as a necessity, but rather as a luxury. Huck's views regarding wealth clearly contrast with Jim’s. For Jim, who is on a quest to buy his family out of slavery, money is equivalent to freedom. In addition, wealth would allow him to raise his status in society. Thus, Jim is on a constant quest for wealth, whereas Huck remains apathetic.
Slavery: The theme of slavery is perhaps the most well known aspect of this novel. Since it’s first publication, Twain’s perspective on slavery and ideas surrounding racism have been hotly debated. In his personal and public life, Twain was vehemently anti-slavery. Considering this information, it is easy to see that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn provides an allegory to explain how and why slavery is wrong. Twain uses Jim, a main character and a slave, to demonstrate the humanity of slaves. Jim expresses the complicated human emotions and struggles with the path of his life. To prevent being sold and forced to separate from his family, Jim runs away from his owner, Miss Watson, and works towards obtaining freedom so he can buy his family’s freedom. All along their journey downriver, Jim cares for and protects of Huck, not as a servant, but as a friend. Thus, Twain's encourages the reader to feel sympathy and empathy for Jim and outrage at the society that has enslaved him and threatened his life.
However, although Twain attacks slavery through is portrayal of Jim, he never directly addresses the issue. Huck and Jim never debate slavery, and all the other slaves in the novel are very minor characters. Only in the final section of the novel does Twain develop the central conflict concerning slavery: should Huck free Jim and then be condemned to hell? This decision is life-altering for Huck, as it forces him to reject everything "civilization" has taught him. Huck chooses to free Jim, based on his personal experiences rather than social norms, thus choosing the morality of the “natural life” over that of civilization.
Mississippi River: • The majority of the plot takes place on the river or its banks. For Huck and Jim, the river represents freedom. On the raft, they are completely independent and determine their own courses of action. Jim looks forward to reaching the free states, and Huck is eager to escape his abusive, drunkard of a father and the “civilization” of Miss Watson. However, the towns along the river bank begin to exert influence upon them, and eventually Huck and Jim meet criminals, shipwrecks, dishonesty, and great danger. Finally, a fog forces them to miss the town of Cairo, at which point there were planning to head up the Ohio River, towards the free states, in a steamboat.
Originally, the river is a safe place for the two travelers, but it becomes increasingly dangerous as the realities of their runaway lives set in on Huck and Jim. Once reflective of absolute freedom, the river soon becomes only a short-term escape, and the novel concludes on the safety of dry land, where, ironically, Huck and Jim find their true freedom.
His contributions and achievement : • Mark Twain, pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, is a very famous humorist, whose best work is characterized by broad, often irreverent humor or biting social satire. His writing is also known for realism of place and language, memorable characters, and hatred of hypocrisy and oppression. • One of his significant contributions to American literature lies in the fact that he made colloquial speech an accepted, respectable literary medium in the literary history of the country. • In social criticism he loved life, people, freedom and justice, felt a pride on human dignity and advocated brotherhood of man. He hated tyranny and iniquity, despised meanness and cruelty, and took his role as a social critic in a serious and responsible manner. • He was not indifferent either to the Chinese immigrants persecuted in America or to a China suffering intense agonies of humiliation and dismemberment by imperialist powers.
Homework: • Analyze MT’s short story The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County on page 68 of the text book. • What’s your impression after reading the short story. • Hand in your exercise books next Wednesday.