Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Nothing to Smile Over

Jane Smiley makes a grating denouncement of what is considered "the novel all American literature grows out of" (Smiley, 355). However, she does so on account of the things it is not as opposed to looking at the text for what it is. She accosts the text for not being Uncle Tom's Cabin  which she considers to be a "brilliant analysis married to a great wisdom of feeling" (Smiley, 359). The adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Jim, however, are not the same as the trials of Tom. Smiley find Uncle Tom's Cabin to be a better depiction and critique of the slavery era. Some of the biggest differences between the texts strengthen The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as universally applicable text.

In Uncle Tom's Cabin, the narrative was directed by ownership. Though Tom developed through his journeys, he was moved like a product from owner to owner. Jim on the other hand ceases to be "owned" after the first chapter and their journey is directed by chance. Though Smiley claims that "Twain's moral failure" is that he does not "account for their choice to go down the river than across it" (Smiley, 357). However, Smiley fails to assess that it was not their choice. Huck and Jim's original goal is to make it to Cairo which leads towards the free states. It is only because of the storm, separation, and stumbling upon the robbers that they miss their intended destination and then when attempting to return they realize that their canoe is gone.

Smiley accurately notes that the "raft had floated [...] into the truly dark heart of the American soul and of American history: slave country" (Smiley, 356). It was not steered, canoed, or motored towards its destination, except by Twain's writing itself. Huck had no end goal or destination except escaping Pap. Jim was driven by his yearning for freedom and so Huck joined him towards that goal. Though Uncle Tom's Cabin emphasizes the consequences and outcomes of enslavement and ownership, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn emphasizes the natural freedom of  all people which is strengthened by the chance and lack of direction of their journey. They are free to go to the free states or go right back to Miss Watson, however are pulled by the currents of life itself. Tom on the other hand is dragged from plantation to plantation. Though both depict vital issues during the slavery era, what makes Twain's work so strong is that Jim is free throughout, no matter what society tells him.

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