Posted November 6th, 2009
By: Luis R. Poveda
Self-discovery is the idea of achieving understanding or knowledge of oneself. Discovering individuality is something that many people face at some point in their lives and the outcome varies. One of the most prominent stages in which self-discovery occurs, is during adolescence. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye are both examples of coming of age novels. The main characters, Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield, both experience a journey of self-discovery. These experiences lead to their maturity and awareness of identity. Huck is trying to find purpose and identity through conflicting of morals, while Holden is an adolescent struggling to find maturity into manhood.
Although Huck and Holden come from different backgrounds and time periods, they are both ostracized from society and are united in their struggle against conforming to social values. Holden is a seventeen year old surrounded by topics such as sex, alcohol, and “growing up” in the urban culture of the 1940s. However, Holden’s stance is distinct from those around him because he chooses not to accept the trends and views that bombard him and instead lives on his own opinions of what is important. This is evident by his failure to stay in school, his conflicts with adult authority, and therefore is also the reason for his isolation from society. On the other hand, Huckleberry Finn is a product of the 18th century where slavery is the most pressing issue. Huck’s unique perception of the world he lives in causes him to, like Holden, question his society and the adults who attempt to mold him.
One of the most apparent similarities between The Catcher in the Rye and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the method by which the authors used the protagonists as a means to comment on the society of the day. Both works feature the adolescent runaways as narrators, each commenting on problems of their times. Holden is excessively judgmental, setting him apart from Huck, who in comparison was much more descriptive than hypercritical. For example, Holden seems to have a negative comment for everyone, whether it be labeling his older brother D.B, as a “prostitute” for moving to Hollywood, or his teachers who act different or “phony” in class. While many may see this as one of his faults it may also be considered one of his special attributes. His ability to make judgments allows him to see past the superficial layers and into the “phoniness” of almost every individual he meets.
In opposition to Holden, Huck is less judgmental and more self-examining. Throughout the first half of the novel he rarely criticizes other people. He describes the Grangerfords as civilized, though he is aware of their bloody and pointless feud. Furthermore, although he does not understand Tom Sawyer’s desire to complicate matters unnecessarily, he does not condemn him for it. In fact, though one may see that Huck is truly more intelligent than Tom, Huck feels inferior to him. Holden, on the other hand, constantly overlooks his own phoniness. He often lies giving a false image of himself to others and displays hypocritical qualities by going to the movies many times, though he claims to detest them.
Holden’s ability of storytelling along with his desire for adventure makes him similar to Huck and serves to remind us that despite their meaningful maturation and their examination of society, both are still young narrators with immature qualities. Holden and Huck share the ability to assume different roles to suit their needs. When Holden meets a classmate’s mother on the subway after leaving Pencey, he takes on the name Rudolf Schmidt and proceeds to tell the mother unnecessary lies about her son, Ernest. Huck also often changes character pretending to be a girl at one point and an orphan at another point with Jim as his only possession. However, there is a difference between their motives. While Holden mainly lies for his own amusement, Huck normallydoes it to protect Jim.
The fact that both characters are often playful and adventurous does not hide the fact that they both suffer from loneliness and isolation. Holden’s isolation is more severe because he is fighting a losing battle to keep his innocence while under pressure from the rest of the world and has no companions to aid him. Eventually he learns that he must cope with the isolation, largely brought upon by himself, which leads him into a partial state of depression. Huck shares these intense feelings of isolation since many times various things made him feel very “lonesome.” However, unlike Holden who felt completely alone, Huck is open to the companionship of Tom Sawyer and Jim. Later, his relationship with Tom is affected when the boys of Tom’s band of robbers want to cut Huck out of the gang. Still he had Jim, someone who Huck felt cared about him as even more than a friend.
From the idea of education to pursuing a career, the adult life is not something that appeals to neither Holden nor Huck. Holden is against the routine that he believes creates the life of an ordinary adult as he imagines what his future would be like if left to Sally, “working in some office, making a lot of dough, and riding to work in cabs and Madison Avenue buses, and reading newspapers, and playing bridge all the time, and going to the movies, and seeing a lot of stupid shows.” Instead of this Holden would rather “drive up to Massachusetts and Vermont” and stay in “cabin camps” and “chop all his own wood in the wintertime”. Instead of being a lawyer like his father, who gets the priority of making money confused with helping people, Holden would rather be “the catcher in the rye” who saves the children from falling off the edge of the cliff. Like Huck, Holden also chooses death over conforming, volunteering to sit on the atomic bomb rather than fight in a war.
In comparing both novels, it is interesting to see how Huck has taken something from his adventures and become a new character, while Holden seems to be essentially unchanged by his experiences. Holden remains at the end what he was at the beginning, cynical, defiant, and blind. Holden still lives to get his own pleasure whether it would be by lying or getting drunk and still clings on an immature idealism. However, whether or not his idealism is immature, he displays strength of character by not allowing the views of others to influence his own.
As a result of his experiences, Huck became a freethinking individual that, through Jim, realizes the injustices of slavery. At the beginning of the novel he may not have supported the institution of slavery but did not think anything wrong with it. The fact that he was young and naive played to his benefit and allowed him to recognize something that the adults did not, that Jim was just as much human as any white person was and deserved to be free. In addition to this, one can say that both Huck’s and Holden’s experiences reaffirm the fact that though they canlive a “civilized” life they would prefer to live of their own ways, away form the “phoniness” of mainstream society.
It's a pretty good essay. A few pointers:
Huck is naive, and the fact that his narrative gaze describes people and events without judgment is what strikes the reader as funny or comical; this is because we see that he fails to see people as convention dictates. Twain was a great admirer of Voltaire, and copies his polemical instrumentalization of naivete; Holden is not naive --- on the contrary, he sees through all social conventions, deconstructing them and showing their fundamental "phoniness."
Huck isn't only pretending to be an orphan. He is literally orphaned by his mother, and his father is so absent (and drunk) that it's not much of a stretch to consider him a complete orphan.
Huck doesn't become a free-thinking individual, he starts out that way as well -- for example, he empirically tries out Tom's theory of the magic lamp to see if it works, and rejects it; he evaluates the use of arithmetic and school in general, and rejects both; he considers his social duty to report stolen property (Jim is a runway slave) and rejects it; his transformation is more a discovery that his intellectual independence is not some mistake, and he learns to accept his own higher set of individual values over those of society.
Huck is not really ostracized from society; it continues to use the notion of family and civility to try and rein him in, and to include him; it is he who rejects it.
Overall, you've touched on a number of good points. The thing is, you should cite actual quotations every now and then (or even better, for every claim you make), including page numbers in parentheses.
Using citations as I suggest is the way to an A or an A+; without them, you can't arrive there, except perhaps in the seventh grade or lower.