Z0374417                                            ENGL3131: AMERICAN FICTION SUMMATIVE                                

American Adolescents and the extent to which Huck and Holden embody American principles. A Critical Comparison between extracts from the Catcher in the Rye and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

According to J Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, ‘The American is a new man, who acts upon new principles; he must therefore entertain new ideas and form new opinions’ (1782:44).   It is this idea of ingeniousness and the need to shape one’s own destiny that is of great prominence in American Fiction. However, the implications of this attitude differ vastly, when they are applied to American youths as opposed to the American ‘man’ as described by Crevecoeur.  A major issue explored in both The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye is that of youth rebellion in American society, and whether socio-political resistance is something to be embraced or deeply feared.  Through the eyes of adolescents, American writers have been able to put numerous social criticisms into words, with a level of honesty that is startling and direct. The extract from Chapter 19 of Huckleberry Finn shows some strong similarities to the extract from Chapter 14 of Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.  The respective protagonists, Huckleberry Finn and Holden Caulfield are products of highly contrasting time periods, as well as diverging cultures, yet there are distinctive parallels to be drawn between the two characters in terms of their role in American fiction – particularly the way in which they give voice to the marginalised adolescent and portray the transition from childhood to adulthood.  This issue of being an American adolescent is linked to the idea of ‘coming of age’, but whether Huck or Holden actually develop depends on their individual journeys.

The presence of the Mississippi River in Huck Finn is of vital importance in both the given extract and the overall novel.  T.S. Eliot (1950) defined the two major ‘elements’ of Huck Finn as ‘the Boy and the River’.  He noted that while the novel owes its style to the personality of Huck, the Boy; the River creates form and structure throughout, making it more than just a series of escapades culminating in an ending.  

In the extract, Huck reflects on the river fondly, with a tone of habit and familiarity when he says: “So we would put in the day, lazying around, listening to the stillness” (p109).  According to Marx (1953), the river signifies a serene and idyllic way of life for Huck, the perfect means of escape; Huck remarks: “It’s lovely living on a raft” (p109).  Yet, perhaps there is irony in this, considering the idea that the river to an extent constrains Huck’s Journey; allowing him to travel in only one direction, and at a speed commanded by the river itself.  Seeing the journey through Huck’s eyes means losing sight of certain facts; for example, that his escape from the restriction of society has been replaced merely by the controlling Mississippi, the part of nature he idolises.  With this in mind, perhaps it can be said that Huckleberry Finn is, as Stone (1961) describes, a victim of ‘environmental determinism’, whereby he is influenced more by nature than the society in which he has been raised.  This criticism of Huck’s naïve attitude may be regarded as a condemnation of youth rebellion, an indication that free spirited adolescents, in spite of their idealistic and wholly American intentions, are incapable of identifying danger.

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Further focusing on the importance of the River, Johnson (1996) asserted that the plot of the novel is episodic in its nature, and is not structured traditionally, but rather is held together by one of the most American of all geographic elements, the Mississippi.  The fact that most of the novel’s action takes place either on it or in its vicinity, is a sign of Twain’s desire to deviate from the typical ‘tightly constructed’ plot, in favour of an episodic narrative based around natural forms (Johnson, 1996).  This movement away from convention creates a mirror effect, reflecting Huck’s rejection ...

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