Sunday, September 25, 2011

Huck Finn 3

Chapters 31-43
         In these final chapters the Duke and Dauphin sell Jim for $40. He is held as a well treated prisoner on the farm of Silas and Sally Phelps who are Tom Sawyer’s aunt and uncle. Huck has to pretend to be Tom Sawyer to avoid getting in trouble with the Phelps family. The Duke and Dauphin are eventually captured then tarred and feathered. Meanwhile Huck and Tom contrive a convoluted plan to help Jim escape. The plan, which was mostly Tom’s idea, ultimately puts Jim and the Phelps family through more trouble than necessary. The three narrowly escape the Phelps farm and Tom is shot as they flee. After being brought back to his aunt and Uncle’s Tom reveals all of the plans he and Huck had made for Jim’s escape, and his Aunt Polly correctly identifies the two boys to Sally and Silas Phelps. Tom also informs everyone that Miss Watson had died two months prior and she freed Jim in her will. The story ends with Tom, Huck, and Jim deciding to “…go for howling adventures amongst the Injuns, over in the Territory for a couple of weeks or so” Jim also assures Huck that his father hasn’t taken all of his money, and eventually reveals that Huck’s father was the dead man in the floating house.
         To me, the most important part of this section, and possibly the entire novel, was on pages 328-331 when Huck discusses how he knows “Providence” was punishing him for helping Jim run away. Despite the fact that Huck knows he isn’t doing what the conventional church would say was right he feels more at ease “going to hell” than letting Jim be taken back into slavery. It is at this point that Huck separates his identity from the general population of the time. He makes an intrinsic decision about Jim because it is what he feels is right, not because its what he thinks he thinks society would tell him to do. This relates to Fredrick Douglass’ assertions that the church condoned slavery and even taught that it was right. Even Huck, who had few morals instilled in him, believed he was doing something wrong by helping a man obtain freedom.
         In this section Tom Sawyer seems to hurt Huck and Jim almost more than he helps them. His many schemes and fanciful ideas for Jim do nothing more than prolong his imprisonment. He is so insistent on making Jim’s prison time consistent with various stories he almost becomes a nuisance. His final revelation that Jim had actually been free for two months was just the icing on the cake. I felt that his actions showed the juvenile side of his character. 

Huck Finn 2

Chapters 16-30
         After surviving the steam boat wreck and their separation in the fog Huck and Jim are once again met with misfortune when they realize that they passed the town of Cairo and the Ohio River which would have lead Jim to the free states. Even more bad luck comes their way when a steamboat overturns the raft. Huck is again separated from Jim and washes on shore where he is taken into the Grangerford home. After the battle between the Grangerford and the Shepherdsons most of the Grangerfords are killed, and Huck runs away with Jim again. The two eventually meet up with two con-artists that Twain names the Duke and the King. After basically hijacking Huck and Jim’s raft these two men pull off a succession of scams in several towns along the river. In the end of this section Huck thinks he has escaped the two frauds. Unfotrunately, they eventually catch up to him and nearly strangle him because they suspect he was trying to leave them behind.
         In these chapters it seemed to me that Huck’s conscience was really starting to become more prevalent in both good and bad ways. In the beginning Huck battles with the belief that if he was a good person in his current societies standards he would have turned Jim in. He even decides at one point to give Jim up, but has a change of heart (Ch. 16). This internal struggle between doing what he was raised to believe is right and what he wants to do to help Jim follows Huck throughout the story. Huck’s conscience is clearly developing in chapters 25-27 when he decides to help the Wilks sisters keep their inheritance. He clearly feels that what the Duke and King are doing is wrong, and decides to undo their plans to leave the three girls penniless. It seemed to me that along the journey Huck was maturing and beginning to grow out of the boyish behaviors he had in the first few chapters.
         It is clear that Twain is making many statements about human nature in these chapters. In the episode with the Grangerfords and The Shepherdsons he seems to be referring to the horrible things people were willing to do out of pride. These two groups of families committed horrible acts of murder simply because of some argument that neither side could remember. Later the speech Colonel Sherburn gives (on pages 25-27) about human nature highlights the aspects of mob mentality that we have been discussing since we read  Hawthorne’s My Kinsman Major Molineaux. Finally, the naiveté of the three Wilks sisters could be a commentary on how people (possibly women) are naturally willing to trust.
         The immorality shown by the Duke and King is at some points unbearable. There seems to be no limit to how low these two characters will sink. They connect to many of our previous readings. One major connection I made was when the King conns the people at the camp meeting into believing he was a reformed pirate wanting to convert other pirates. Here Twain gives a prime example of the type people Cartwright discussed in his writings. It is clear from this example that though these camp meetings were good places for religious people met to worship together, they were also easy targets for con men such as the King and the Duke. 

Huck Finn 1

For my blogs about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain I decided to break the book up into thirds and write a blog entry about each third. For my first entry I will discuss the first 15 chapters.
         In the beginning of the novel we learn that Huckleberry Finn, the main character, has been in the custody of the Widow Douglass and her sister, Miss Watson. They have tried to “civilize” Huck, but have not had much luck.  Huck’s father, Pap, is a homeless alcoholic who causes trouble for Huck, and eventually ends up kidnapping him because he wants the $6,000 Huck received at the end of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Huck escapes his father by faking his own murder. Huck decides that to run away from St. Petersburg and live on a raft in the Mississippi River. While on an island Huck runs into a run-away slave named Jim who used to belong to belong to Miss Watson. Jim joins Huck on his adventure and the two encounter many strange and interesting things as the travel down the River such as a floating house with a dead body in it, and a wrecked steam boat.
         As I read these chapters and throughout the rest of the novel one major connection I made with this reading and many our other readings is the strong influence that the Fugitive Slave Act had on African Americans during this time. In these chapters we learn that Jim has run away because he does not want to be sold. He therefore must remain in hiding so he can not be captured and sent back to his owner. He is even uneasy about telling Huck, a fellow runaway, what he had done (pg. 66). He is completely reliant on Huck, and his word that he will not tell on him.
         Another major thing I noticed about Jim and many of the slaves in this novel is how superstitious they are. Jim’s superstitious nature is sometimes so strong that he pulls Huck into his fears. The incident with the snake skin seems to haunt Huck for most of the story. I am curious to find out what Mark Twain was trying to show through these, often irrational, superstitions. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Frederick Douglass

         In the beginning of this speech Frederick Douglas discusses the Fourth of July and what it means to the general American public.  He discusses how he is glad that America is still a young country, and then goes into why he himself feels separated from the celebration of the 4th of July. Throughout the rest of the speech Douglas explores the obvious issues with the American Slave Trade and the various reasons why it is so rampant in the American South. He also discusses how the slave interprets the celebration of the Fourth of July holiday.
         As I read the speech I noticed that Douglas repeatedly uses the word “YOUR” when he refers to the country of America and the American government. Even though he is a free man, and an American citizen himself, he never uses the word “OUR”. I believe he makes this distinction to show his separation, as a former slave, from the “liberty” that white Americans celebrated on the Fourth of July. This also illustrates to Douglass’ audience that there are still individuals in America who are American citizens, but are robbed of their freedom and liberty.
         Douglass’ discussion about the church in America of course connected to Cartwright’s opinions on this issue as well. Douglass says that the church is not only guilty of being indifferent to slavery, but worse yet “takes sides with the oppressors”. He also makes the claim that the church has the power to abolish slavery, but instead chooses not to. I believe this parallels with what Cartwright argued about the Methodist church.
         I think that for a black man in this time to say the things Douglass said in front of a group of white Americans, even if they were abolitionists, was very brave. Douglass made strong accusations and pointed out some very disturbing issues in American society. Even with all of the dismal aspects of slavery looming over him I believe Douglass had hope for America. In the final paragraph he speaks about the ways in which the world is changing, and how slavery will not be able to hide quietly in the American south much longer. The spread of information and commerce across the world seemed to give Douglass hope that change would soon be upon America. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Harriet Beecher Stowe

      In this set of short stories Harriet Beecher Stowe paints two pictures of American families. One story takes place in 1776 and the other in 1850. In the first story the young family of a Revolutionary war captain discusses the importance of the war and the fight for liberty. In the end of the story the small family gives away most of what they own to support the soldiers who fight for freedom and equality. This is their sacrifice to the Altar of Liberty. In the second story Stowe writes about a young black family who live like any other American family. They work hard for a living, read the bible, and discuss how lucky they are live in “a free country now”. The family’s domestic bliss is quickly interrupted by police who arrest the father claiming that he is still a slave and that he still belongs to a man in Georgia. The father is sold on the auction stand soon after. This is his sacrifice on the Altar of Liberty.
         Stowe highlights in these stories the two very different Altars of Liberty that have in many ways defined America’s history. The heart wrenching story of the innocent family giving up everything  the own, down to the socks on their feet, portrays an image of the American Revolution that many people can identify with. This is the America we like to think about. This is the self-sacrificing “American Spirit” that many people hold so dear. But what good was all of this sacrifice and suffering when less than 100 years later there are groups of American citizens, such as the young family in the second story, who are treated more poorly than any colonist was ever treated by the British? The altar at which the young black father gave his sacrifice is the portrait of America people like to forget. I think it is easy for people to get so wrapped up in American pride that they fail to remember the many injustices our country has done to other people including African Americans, American Indians, and others.
         Both of these stories hold equal importance in American history. They emphasize the bitter irony that those revolutionary war soldiers were fighting for freedom and liberty, but only for white people… white men as a matter of fact. I believe Stowe was trying to make a point about the way Americans were treating their fellow Americans in the 1850’s. Through these stories she illustrates the backwards motion of freedom after the Revolutionary War.