The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday. I say this every year. And since this year I am stuck at work instead of being able to think up a lovely patriotic post, I’m going to use old stuffs. Sorry. But before we dive right into that…here’s an idea of what I’m putting up with today.
Almost every Latino/Hispanic person coming in the gallery today is wearing the colors of the Mexican flag. Or a Mexican flag hat. Or Mexican flag boxers. Hello – whose Independence Day is this? It isn’t September 16 (Mexican Independence Day, although also my wedding day, unfortunately). Anyway…
Also – there are at least 15 signs up on the windows and shelves in the gallery saying “STORE CLOSING! SALE! LAST DAY JULY 31ST.” Nearly everyone who walks in comes right up to the counter and asks “hey, are you guys closing?” My sarcastic side is just clawing to get at them. “Nope, we enjoy putting up fake signs,” “WHAT? WE’RE CLOSING??? DOES THIS MEAN I NEED A NEW JOB???,” and “I dunno. Are we? S’pose that means I’m finally freeeeee!!!” You get the idea.
“Wild Huckleberries: Huck Finn as the Noble Savage”
What is it about Huckleberry Finn that makes him so attractive to readers? His popularity spans generations and even international borders. His youth enamors us, his predicaments humor us, and his innocence endears him to us. He is a quintessential American homeboy. In defying many of the social norms of his society, Huck becomes a more honest and righteous individual. And although it has been suggested that Jim is the example of the noble savage in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in reality Huck exemplifies the idea clearer. He has a practical yet intuitive faith in them, and still – although unconsciously most of the time – has faith things will turn out alright in the end. Even though he desires to be independent and wild, Huck strives to do what is right for the good of others, even though many times that means shattering social norms.
Huckleberry is the ultimate people person – even in times when he wants the reputation as self-sufficient and free wheeling. When he is alone, especially at night, we see traces of loneliness.
“When it was dark I set by my camp-fire smoking, and feeling pretty well satisfied, but by and by it got sort of lonesome, and so I went and set on the bank and listened to the current swashing along…and then went to bed; there ain’t no better way to put in time when you are lonesome; you can’t stay so, you soon get over it.”
After being “dead” for several days on the island, Huck discovers Jim, and also discovers he has missed human company. “…it was Miss Watson’s Jim! I bet I was glad to see him. I says: ‘Hello, Jim!’ and skipped out”.
Huckleberry’s concern and longing for relationships shines through even in dangerous situations. While staying with the Grangerfords, Huck finds himself in the middle of a climactic battle, resulting from Miss Sophia and Harney eloping. While hiding in a tree, he watches as Buck and his companion exchange fire with the Shepherdsons, flee, and are killed. Huck tells us he can’t recount all that happened without being sick from it. He ends up being the one to pull the bodies from the river, and tells us he “cried a little” while doing it because of the hospitality he had been shown. Feeling responsible for the day’s events, Huck also confesses he wishes he had told Colonel Grangerford about the note he found in Miss Sophia’s Bible so she would have been detained from meeting Harney. Huck feels compassion for this family and carries guilt for the deaths of Buck and his companion.
Probably the individual which Huck has the most concern for, though mostly unconscious, is Jim. After Huck and Jim spend a few days lounging about the island, Huck gets restless and heads over to St. Petersburg to find out what’s going on. Here he learns Jim is being blamed for his murder, there’s a bounty on Jim’s head, and that the island is about to be searched. Huck returns to the island as quickly as he can and alerts Jim to the impending danger. Without even formulating a plan, they take off down the river. During the beginning of the journey, we see Jim taking care of Huckleberry more than the other way around. Even though they are separated, Jim continues to search for Huck. And Huck returns the favor whenever needed. By the end of the novel, as Jim is imprisoned, Huck questions Tom Sawyer’s elaborate and pointless plans to free Jim. Huck’s practical and compassionate side leads him to question the necessity of all the details of baking pies with sheet ladders, writing in blood, and collecting spiders, snakes and rats.
Even though Huckleberry fails to see the necessity for the elaborateness of Tom’s plan, the fact that he follows Tom’s direction shows us that Huck has an innocent faith which can often overwhelm his sense of logic. He places Tom Sawyer on a pedestal because of Tom’s charismatic personality. Huck trusts that Tom will do the right thing. “He told me what [his plan] was, and I see in a minute it was worth fifteen of mine for style, and would make Jim just as free a man as mine would, amd maybe get us all killed besides. So I was satisfied, and said we would waltz on it.” Huck also shows concern that Tom is damaging his reputation by assisting in Jim’s freedom. He attempts to dissuade Tom from breaking the law:
“Here was a boy that was respectable and well brung up; and had a character to lose; and folks at home that had characters; and he was bright and not leather-headed; and knowing and not ignorant; and not mean, but kind; and yet here he was, without any more pride, or rightness, or feeling, than to stoop to this business and make himself a shame, and his family a shame, before everybody. I couldn’t understand it no way at all. It was outrageous, and I knowed I ought to just up and tell him so; and so be his true friend, and let him quit the thing right where he was and save himself.”
Ant though he tris to keep Tom from doing something which could potentially damage his reputation, he still holds that Tom’s decisions are the best.
Huck also has a faith in Providence that he will be taken care of. Whenever he lands on the bank of the river, he invents another lie about his background, another name, and another purpose for being there. He rarely has a plan, but just flies by the seat of his pants. “I went right along, not fixing up any particular plan, but just trusting to Providence to put the right words in my mouth when the time come; for I’d noticed that Providence always did put the right words in my mouth if I left it alone.” And Providence turns him into a farm girl, a boy fallen off a boat, and even Tom Sawyer himself.
Throughout the novel, we see him wrestling with the issues of faith and religion. In chapter three, Huck learns about prayer and spiritual gifts. He attempts to employ a practical faith by praying for fishing hooks, which results in getting nothing. And when confronted with the idea of looking out for other people and not himself, Huck finds this so heavy that he needs to spend time alone in the woods considering it. Ironically, this individual with such a heart for other people “couldn’t see no advantage about it – except for the other people; so at last I reckoned I wouldn’t worry about it any more, but just let it go.”
Huck’s practical faith extends to his concepts of right and wrong. He understands that Jim needs to leave the island because of the circumstances of Huck’s “murder” and Jim’s escape. And though the society of the day would call for Huck to turn Jim in down the road, he only considers it once, and this is only in a situation where he feels Jim is either going to be a slave to the Phelps or to Miss Watson. He feels that it’d be better for Jim to be back with Miss Watson. Huck attempts to pray and see if he “couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy [he] was and be better.” After writing the letter to Miss Watson informing her of Jim’s whereabouts, Huck feels better, but only momentarily. He begins to consider Jim as an individual, recognizing him as a person and a friend. And here we see Huck’s noblest maneuver of the entire novel. “It was a close place. I took [the letter] up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: ‘All right, then, I’ll go to hell’ – and tore it up.” His ideas of right and wrong aren’t the holier-than-thou sermons that Miss Watson dumps on his head, but evolves into his own version of the Widow’s Providence. Ironically, this would classify him as “uncivilized” in the social restrictions of the day. He doesn’t take interest in Bible stories, considering all the people in them are dead. He finds Sunday School boring. And he’s taken in by the Widow Douglass and then Aunt Polly in order to be “civilized” – though his concern for others, faith that he will be provided for, and quest for doing what is right establishes him as a noble individual.
Huck embodies the noble savage for these very reasons. When those surrounding him consider his background with Pap, his affinity for lying, and his adventuresome ways, they label him as uncivilized and a savage who needs to be taught the “proper” way of acting in society. Yet when you consider his personality and actions through the novel, you see he exemplifies the noble savage. He truly has a care and concern for many of the people he meets along the way. His faith in Providence sustains him, and his search for what is right show him to be a predominately good individual. Huck is appealing to us because of his nature, the nature of the noble savage.