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“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Bear”: Journey to Manhood

The theme of the formation of the young hero personality is not new in world literature. Most of the major writers have turned to it in their work. A real artist always seeks to penetrate the secrets of the human soul, to find motives that push a person to certain actions; he is worried about moral problems, ethical values, spiritual qualities that a person should have. Adolescence and youth are those stages of life when a person seriously thinks about these things when his childhood ideas about the world around him collide with reality when the essence of a human is most clearly manifested, and his attitude to life, to other people, and to himself is formed. All of this is an inexhaustible source that has inspired writers of all time to create surprisingly interesting, close to the reader characters.

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One of the reasons for posing complex everyday problems in the context of children’s perception of the world is a noticeable similarity between ontogenesis, that is, the development of the individual) and phylogeny, that is the development of society. In the culture of the United States, the concept of childhood occupies a special position, since the American nation developed in a specific way – it passed its “infancy in the period of colonial prehistory at the end of the Renaissance, and its “youth” fell on the Age of Enlightenment, which was quite mature in the history of the Old World. A young society, numbering a little over two hundred years, throughout its history has retained the features of a youthful worldview. Many writers have addressed it; in particular, this theme of a hero journey from childhood toward manhood is brightly and interestingly developed in the works of two brilliant American writers belonging to different centuries – Mark Twain and William Faulkner.

According to Carpenter, in contrast to England, in America – “the land of endless possibilities” – “the child was free to develop and even control his own destiny; it was only necessary that there were suitable conditions for his self-expression. Some American writers saw in the child a symbol of a virgin territory where democracy prevails and where there are unlimited opportunities for growth” (602). On the other hand, one should not forget that American innocence has always been ambivalent. This is not just a state of childish ignorance but also the ideal of maturity, which is renewed with each generation. From Mark Twain to Salinger, the child’s point of view is asserted as true, coinciding with the point of view of the Creator himself. Even where it does not formally dominate, its moral and aesthetic influence is always evident.

Mark Twain opened the American tradition of using the image of the child for the sharp criticism of society. In the American literature of the 20th century, over and over again, young heroes-storytellers appeared, disparagingly narrating in colloquial language about the difficulties of growing up – from Sherwood Anderson to Salinger (whose Catcher in the Rye would have been completely unthinkable without Huck Finn) and to numerous works of the 80- years. In this context, Mark Twain’s novel acts as an inexhaustible source of impulses. Huck is not innocent in the sense that he is naive, nor because he is without flaws, and yet Huck is innocent because he is guided by his conscience. Hemingway said about one of the first American teen novels in which the narrative is entrusted to the child, that all American literature came from one book by Mark Twain, from his Huckleberry Finn (Miers 39). Indeed, this seemingly children’s book, written in 1884, became a great American novel, endowed with the features of a national epic, embodying key American problems and mythologemes, defining Twain’s sound influence on American literature.

The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn was written in a transitional time for American social and cultural life, the time of the onset of industrial civilization, which changed the spiritual orientations of the nation and the change of the romantic literary paradigm to a realistic one. Twain looked for a counterbalance to the cult of money-grubbing in society and the inadequacy of the depiction of life in literature in the ideals of the era of the formation of the American state and in the immediacy of the perception of the world. It prompted him to choose a teenager as a hero and narrator, simultaneously embodying both the purity of children’s worldview and national mythologemes.

A journey along the main river of America, along which the author himself sailed and to which he owed his pseudonym when he worked as a pilot’s assistant, appears as a kind of odyssey. Odysseus sailed on the sea, periodically getting out on land, and Huck had a river instead of the sea, but on the other hand, a great river, and the adventures in which he falls with enviable regularity are not inferior in brightness and danger to those in which the hero of the Trojan War fell. Interestingly, despite Odysseus being guided by the feeling of debt while Huck was seeking freedom, their deeds are somewhat similar in their moral basis, reminding ageless moral values Kwon and glorified by authors since antiquity. All this appears as a very wide cross-section of the people’s life of deep America, filled with grief and joy, gullibility, and deception.

Like the pioneers exploring a new continent, the disadvantaged orphan Huck and the fugitive slave Jim float along the great Mississippi River in search of freedom and human brotherhood, through this parallel of individual ontogeny and national phylogeny, there are motives of the road, frontier, proximity to nature, a natural man like in “The Bear” of Faulkner, and racial antagonism (Budd 22). The plot of the novel is based on the opposition of the world of the raft, on which the heroes travel, and the world of provincial towns along the river, full of musty, cruelty, and prejudice. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the first realistic novels in American literature, and the very creative manner of the writer asserts itself in a dispute with the previous romanticism, which Twain accused of substituting speculative fiction for life’s truth. Twain’s realism is not only in the specificity and authenticity of what is portrayed, but also in the indispensable comparison of the worldview of the characters with reality; moreover, both the consciousness of the young narrator and the surrounding reality is not stable, ambiguous, and are in the process of constant change, “growing up.”

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Although the story is told on behalf of Huck, other characters are also carriers of a special worldview – Huck’s friend, Tom Sawyer, and the African American Jim. In the context of ontogeny, Tom and Huck are adolescents, establishing personalities, entering life, and learning about the world. In the context of phylogeny, these are carriers of different worldviews, both in essence and in place on the scale of historical timeand in belonging to a particular literary era. Both Tom and Huck are orphans, but Tom was brought up in a respectable bourgeois family, where he was taught certain behavioral norms and introduced to the usual reading circle of an American boy, and Huck is a native of the social lower classes, a vagabond, accustomed to living in the open air; he does not recognize any conventions and inexperienced in bookish wisdom, in fact, a “natural” person. Tom, who has read adventure novels, tries to build events in accordance with romantic formulas, while Huck perceives reality as it is, without any embellishment, and between him and it, there are only his inexperience and common superstitions. Tom is culturally closer to the era of romanticism, Huck – to the era of Enlightenment and realism of the 19th century, but both have a picture of the world inscribed in the history of Western civilization. However, the point of view of the child, for whom each event and adventure reveals a new facet of the world and shapes his consciousness, determined the dynamism of the story at all its levels. Since this view carries not only the traits of individual youthful age, but also the national features of “American innocence” and, moreover, of the youth of all mankind, it reveals the perspective to both the past and the future, pulling them together into a single dynamic process.

A child, with all the concreteness and objectivity of vision, like a person at the dawn of civilization, still cannot draw a clear line between reality and fantasy, retaining elements of figurative thinking and mythological consciousness. Learning the world with the help of logic and reason, like the philosophers of the Enlightenment, Huck is at the same time a subject characteristic of Romanticism – this is a unique individual personality following the “categorical imperative.” This double perspective allows elevating reality to generalization, to dominant national mythologemes, and, at the same time, reducing them to collisions of life (Rasmussen 43). In the narration conducted on behalf of the child, the combination of truth and fiction looks quite organic, and a playful beginning is logical. In Twain, it appears in a variety of hypostases and acquires special semantic content from different characters and in different situations. Changing clothes and “lying” by Huck, who composes sentimental stories about himself, is a defense against a hostile reality towards him and Jim and a way to defend his freedom. At the same time, Huck, who is the bearer of folk common sense, rather quickly learns to overcome childish naivety and distinguish between reality and fantasy.

However, the author does not idealize the child’s consciousness, just as he does not idealize either early national history or pagan consciousness. He observes what is happening from a distance of adulthood, culture, and historical time. The novel introduces irony and comic tonality where superstition, prejudice, and childish naivety contradict common sense. Both the images and the attitude of the writer to them are ambiguous, as for the superstitious Huck, and the dreamer Tom, and especially the Black Jim, who in ontogeny is an adult with folk common sense and an innate moral sense, and in phylogeny, he is a primitive that animates nature, a “good savage” full of superstition and fear of the supernatural.

Due to the fact that the heroes of the novel belong to different cultural paradigms, reality itself appears in it in various forms, intertwined with each other. Diversity and mosaicism of reality, as well as its coverage from different points of view, should be noted, together with the dynamism of the plot, the dominance of the emerging consciousness of the child, and the attraction of classical literary motives and allusions. It helps to create an artistic world that most closely matches the real world. This world is changeable and contradictory, but he, like a human, is able to accumulate experience, retaining the features of previous eras. A child and a primitive on a raft, caught in the whirlpool of life, carry the ideals of freedom and humanity from the past to the future.

Twain builds in the novel the concept of human development in the spirit of educational ideas. He connects the evolution of mankind not with economic and political achievements, but with the improvement of the inner world of a human by bringing legal and moral laws closer to the natural laws of nature. At the beginning of the novel, Huck was influenced by the perceptions of blacks as second-class people, deprived of mental abilities and emotionally undeveloped, which existed in the public life of the United States of the 19th century: “he had an uncommon level head for a nigger” (Twain 36). The idea that a person can be someone’s property, according to the author of the novel, is paradoxical (Twain 64). Huck’s direct perception allows him to reject all social conventions generated by civilization and accept a person based only on his moral qualities. Jim is very worried about Huck, and he feels responsible for him as a child because he is a loving father. Further, the paradoxicality of the situation is aggravated: Jim, for Huck, is a stranger, but he turns out to be kinder and more caring than his own father. Huck realizes this; however, before coming to such thoughts, he goes through a difficult spiritual evolution.

Huck’s spiritual evolution is associated with his overcoming of false principles, for example, the fact that a crime in a “civilized” society is not slavery, but helping an escaped slave, since in the eyes of South Americans, it is an attempt on property. Traveling with Jim, Huck discovers true values for himself – friendship and mutual understanding, unity with nature, compassion, and active participation in the fate of another person. Huck’s evolution is revealed in the compositional construction of the novel. Twain leads his little hero through trials that are given incrementally; that is, as the events of the novel unfold, Twain increasingly intensifies the intrusion of the laws of civilization into the natural life of the heroes.

Huck checks the laws, norms, rules of a “civilized” society with common sense and his own life practice and only then accepts or rejects them. Huck is tormented by his conscience for being the reason that Jim does not return to his “rightful mistress,” because by doing so, he harms Miss Watson (Twain 70). In addition, the young hero is sincerely afraid of violating the biblical commandments, and he is afraid of the prospect of burning in hell for harboring a fugitive Black. As a result, Huck makes the right decision from a humanistic point of view – not to betray Jim, even despite public prejudice and the risk of losing his own freedom. As a Humanism philosopher, he comprehends the powerlessness of ordinary people, the need to protect their interests and freedoms. Twain skillfully shows the psychology of a child – the reader empathizes with Huck, who is afraid of punishment, and yet consciously makes his bold choice in favor of saving Jim.

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Twain shows the process of awakening and the formation of the child’s soul, he; as a writer of child psychology, is a supporter of the educational method of raising a person – it is impossible to raise a worthy person with the help of edifications, and vice versa – an unconscious appeal to the feelings of a child, allows developing all the best human qualities in his soul. In the third part of the novel, Huck’s moral position is already clearly indicated – he is brave, actively acts, is inclined to adventures, is distinguished by special resourcefulness, saving Jim. He is ready to risk his life for the sake of justice, happiness, and freedom of other people.

Another aspect of the idea of freedom, however also with the Humanism ideals, is presented in Faulkner’s world, where a human is taught and nurtured by nature and life. In the story “The Bear” about Ike McCaslin, it is said that “the forest was his university” (Faulkner 57). Faulkner here is very close to the Christian understanding of the process of cognition and teaching. In the Old Testament and early Byzantine literature, God is the educator, the world is the school, and sacred history is the pedagogical process. The world in time and space is put under the sign of the school. Time, and, moreover, both historical time and biographical time of a separate human life, makes sense insofar as there is a time of pedagogical reworking of a person (Vanderwerken 24). If history is a pedagogical process, then nature is a set of didactic aids for visual teaching.

Faulkner views nature as a kind of moral teaching tool. After all, the boy learns in the forest not only the rules of hunting but namely the moral laws. The forest hides not just a big extraordinary Bear, but the secret of Being. For Faulkner, cognition begins with a sense of mystery, and this is very important. Faulkner himself spoke about the story “The Bear” as a symbolic thing (Vanderwerken 19). This is the story of not only a boy, but every human being who grows up to compete with the earth, with the world. The bear is not evil but a process of obsolescence. The boy learns from this bear, not about bears – he learns about the world, about humans, about courage, about pity, and responsibility (Miers 60). Here the reader can clearly see how Faulkner’s story about moral maturation, maturation echoes Twain’s.

Faulkner writes with bitterness about how nature is dying under the pressure of modern mechanized civilization. At the beginning of the story “The Bear,” the boy sees the forest as mighty and eternal, it seems to him that the forest cannot belong to anyone, it cannot be bought, and on the last pages of the story he, already an adult, sadly sees how timber companies cut down the cherished forest thickets, where he once hunted, where he matured in communion with nature. Children are seen as innocent like nature, at the same time, in the process of cognition, acquiring enough maturity to live in harmony with this nature. Here it is about not only the destruction of virgin nature by modern civilization. This expresses Faulkner’s attitude to the most important philosophical and social problems of the century, problems that cannot but worry every thinking writer who also feels his/her personal responsibility for the fate of humanity. Analyzing contemporary American society, Faulkner sees how this society dehumanizes a person, how it corrodes in the individual simple and at the same time infinitely valuable human qualities – kindness, courage, honesty, perseverance.

Faulkner is an original writer, and he has his own concept of a person. He uses the specific environment of the American South, which is well known to him since the writer himself grew up in the small town of Oxford in Mississippi. His work absorbed the enormous life material that was given to him by the whole national history, history of his own family, and his personal emotional experience. In Faulkner’s story “The Bear,” the reader sees the image of the process of cognition as a sacrament and service. The whole atmosphere of the work is mysterious: descriptions of a forest, a hunt, an unusual animal, and unusual dogs. Behind the rite of initiation of a boy into a hunter (anointing with the blood of a deer), there is a symbol of communion and involvement in the secrets of the forest. Faulkner’s episodes are very significant. This communion, as the author shows, is possible only through service to the forest, through love for it. Therefore, neither Sam nor Isaac want to kill the Bear (although such an opportunity is given to them) since this would mean taking possession of him and therefore betraying him. About Ike McCaslin, Faulkner says: “he entered the forest as a novice” (Faulkner 3). He came not only to hunt but to serve the forest. He needs not to kill the Bear but to see the Bear. The meeting between the Bear and the boy is one of the key episodes of the story. It is characteristic of any existential knowledge that the act of cognition itself transforms both the subject and the object. Existential knowledge is based on an encounter, as a result of which a new meaning is created and realized.

Faithfulness, service, fear, love appear in Faulkner in a kind of unity and serve as steps in the process of cognition; this path is not up or down, but inward. The boy goes deep into the forest, and there, in the depths, he meets the Bear and the world. There is a feeling of inexhaustibility, the vastness of a mysterious, terrible, and beautiful world, and from this feeling, cognition begins. Sometimes, even within the limits of one work, a spontaneous narrative encounters a style in which the tension of thought, persistently making its way to truth, is clearly felt. This takes place in “The Bear,” the free narrative element of which suddenly breaks off in order to let the idea express itself. Young McCaslin suddenly discovers that the lonely happiness of merging with nature is not infinite, that he is threatened to be disturbed by certain forces that for the time being remained unknown to him. However, it is no longer himself, but Faulkner forces the hero to interrupt the serenity of natural, instinctive existence and start thinking.

Penetration is perhaps the most accurate, almost literal designation of what happens to Faulkner’s heroes in the process of learning the forest as learning the life. After all, the forest lets the boy in only after he has fulfilled a number of conditions. Later, after several years of man hunting, Isaac again goes into the depths of the thicket, giving up ownership of his farm. It should be noted that the constant appeal to the Past in Faulkner’s novels is also a movement not so much backward but rather in-depth – into the depths of memory, history, as a result of which there is no repetition, but the comprehension of events.

To some extent, both works can be considered a novel of education since their content is the psychological, moral, and social formation of the protagonist’s personality. Both authors organically embed the hero’s journey into the historical context, leading the reader through the process of moral development simultaneously with acquiring a deep knowledge of the world. One of the central themes in both works is racism, its ugly nature, and the way heroes overcome their prejudices. The biblical consciousness is also present in both protagonists, but they learn to see the world in all its diversity, from social positions, overcoming the social conventions generated by civilization and the dominant culture.

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Works Cited

Budd, Louis. New Essays on Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Carpenter Frederick. The American Myth. Paradise to be Regained. PMLA, 1959.

Faulkner, William. Go Down, Moses. Vintage, 1996.

Miers, Earl S. A Child’s First Book of American History. Beautiful Feet Books. 2013.

Rasmussen, R. Kent. Critical Companion to Mark Twain: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work. Facts On File Publishing. 2007.

Twain, Mark. The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn. William Collins.

Vanderwerken, David L. Faulkner’s Literary Children: Patterns of Development. Peter Lang, 1997.

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