Reinventing the World and Reinventing the Self in Huck Finn

By Kravits, Bennett | Papers on Language & Literature, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Reinventing the World and Reinventing the Self in Huck Finn


Kravits, Bennett, Papers on Language & Literature


When Huck Finn reaches the "freedom" of Jackson's Island he believes he has fulfilled his American destiny by imposing his will upon the world. Indeed, Huck evaluates his situation when he arrives on the island as follows: "But the next day I was exploring around down through the Island. I was boss of it; it all belonged to me, so to say, and I wanted to know all about it; but mainly I wanted to put in the time" (64). After staging his own death, Huck arrives on the Island convinced he will be able to abandon civilization and refashion himself in a world of his own. Unconsciously, however, Huck has latched on to one of the most prominent American Dreams, one that appears--in Pierre Macherey's terms--in the margins or the "non-dit" of the text: the dream of domination in the guise of creating a new world, or settling a virgin land (85-88). By setting out to construct a new world--one in which he will become an active self-fashioner rather than the passive participant he had been in the Widow's "sivilized" world--Huck imagines he will be able to avoid the very conflicts Twain has assembled for him throughout the novel. Feeling "pretty satisfied," as he so often does at the beginning of a new adventure, Huck believes himself free of the major interpersonal conflicts that pursue him consistently throughout his quest. No longer will he have to resolve the dilemmas of freedom versus friendship, solitude versus solidarity, and Christian, Puritan conscience versus the natural, pagan values of the "noble savage." But Huck undermines himself in the very passage in which he claims to be "boss of it" all. Huck ends his rumination with the idea that he is "put(ting) in the time." At the very moment Huck seems to control his world, he admits that his main objective is to keep busy and avoid the feelings of loneliness and solitude that attack him whenever Twain decides that Huck is feeling too satisfied.

The image of the virgin land in new-world and American ideology needs no introduction. From Columbus and the Puritans, through the destruction of the Native American tribes, new-world settlers have imagined a green, virgin space waiting to be taken over by yet another version of God's chosen people. Twain, it seems, was aware of this American fantasy, and the rich and complex themes of Huck Finn appear to revolve around this central "unsaid" theme. Though Twain may on occasion have disparaged American Indians in his writings, it does not mean he was unaware of or opposed to his ancestors' hegemonic behavior towards native Americans and even the European settlers who were not orthodox Puritans. (1) In an 1881 speech given to the New England Society of Philadelphia, Twain portrays an understanding of the initial American mission that would only begin to gain acceptability in the American mind close to a century later. The tolerance for the Other implicit in his treatment of America's "errand into the wilderness" should remain a lasting testimonial to Twain's attitude toward one civilization impinging itself upon another in the name of freedom:

My first American ancestor, gentlemen, was an Indian--an early Indian. Your ancestors skinned him alive, and I am an orphan. Later ancestors of mine were the Quakers William Robinson, Marmaduke Stevenson, et al. Your tribe chased them out of the country for their religion's sake; promised them death if they came back; for your ancestors had forsaken the home they loved, and braved the perils of the sea, implacable climate, and the savage wilderness, to acquire the highest and most precious of boons, freedom for every man on this broad continent to worship according to the dictates of his conscience--they were not going to allow a lot of pestiferous Quakers to interfere with it. Your ancestors broke forever the chains of political slavery, and gave the vote to every man in this wide land, excluding none!--none except those who did not belong to the orthodox church. Your ancestors--yes, they were a hard lot; but nevertheless, they gave us religious liberty to worship as they required us to worship, and political liberty to vote as the church required; and so the bereft one, the forlorn one, am here to do my best to help you celebrate them right. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Reinventing the World and Reinventing the Self in Huck Finn
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.