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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Breaking the Barriers of Society

The common thoughts prevalent during the time of slavery throughout the southern parts of the United States affected Huckleberry Finn in an unconscious way , leading to confusion as to what was right or wrong when helping Jim seek freedom. “I begun to get it through my head that he was most free - and who was to blame for it? Why, me I couldn’t get that out of my conscience, no how nor no way.”(Twain 90) In the same way, many people today become emotionally and mentally confused when their gay loved ones wish to get married, often feeling torn between whether this is the “right” or “wrong” belief to stand behind.
During Mark Twain’s time, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn drew controversy as it still does today. The topic of race and slavery is masterfully handled within the pages of this great American novel.  While the majority of modern day Americans would proudly frown up the idea of segregation, let alone slavery, there is another battle which is currently a hot-button topic that draws unusual parallels to the treatment of blacks in the book.  In our time, we are faced with the question of whether or not gay marriage is an equal right that should be afforded to those who desire it.  Just as Jim desired freedom, many men and women living in this country desire the basic freedom and protections that the law provides for their straight counterparts.  The battle, however, is not so basic to those in the trenches – just as it was not easy or basic for Huck Finn, who resided in the confusing world of what his heart told him about Jim, “I knowed he was white inside” (Twain 276) and what society told him about how he should feel toward slaves, “People would call me a low down Abolitionist” (Twain 45).  For those wrestling with the idea of marriage for their gay loved ones, the internal issues can often mimic the internal turmoil Huck faced throughout the novel.
Approximately 1.7% of the current American population identifies themselves as homosexual, while 1.8% identify themselves as bisexual. (The Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, 2011) For each of the 3.5% mentioned herein, it can be expected that there are many heterosexual family and friends who care deeply for them – just as Huck Finn cared deeply for Jim, regardless of what society said about him.  “But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind.” (Twain 216).  For those with a homosexual loved one, society overall still sends the message that their loved one is somehow less deserving, inherently disordered or “wrong”.  This attitude, which stems from many different places; religious belief, fear of the different or unknown as well as nothing more than long held misunderstanding of the biological nature of homosexuality.  When beliefs such as these are regularly fed into a person, just as the mindset that Huck had throughout the novel had been fed to him over time, there comes great confusion within the individual   – though the time may very well come when he or she has to decide for themselves what they really feel about this idea.  As he had the clear-cut opportunity to turn Jim in he observed, “I warn’t man enough – hadn’t the spunk of a rabbit.  I see I was weakening.”  (Twain 93)
For Huck, what he was feeling would be, by today’s standards a place not of weakness but of strength and a sense of enlightenment, not usually found in a boy his age, born and breed in the south.  It took, for him, getting to know Jim as a person and seeing that they were not so different after all.  “I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their’n.” (Twain 158).  When faced with a loving homosexual relationship in an intimate way, such as close friends or immediate family members, it is hard to deny that the love between man and man as well as woman and woman is any different than the love between a man and a woman. 
While all traces of his previous thinking and feeling did not completely dissolve for Huck nor for Jim, “Jim he couldn’t see no sense in the most of it, but he allowed that we was white folks and knowed better than him”, (Twain 250), it did become clear that overall they were on the same page at the end of the book.  “Now, old Jim, you’re a free man again, and I bet you won’t ever be a slave no more.” (Twain 276) 
In the same way, it may not be a clear-cut answer of complete emotional agreement on part of the straight community that the gay community should be held in such high esteem as to allow for gay marriage.  Yet, when faced with your child, your best friend, your sister or your brother’s happiness  and protection under the law – as well as the understanding that belief differs from person to person, it would be hard to deny that passing laws to grant this freedom is not only rational but the right thing to do.  As Huckleberry Finn observed “human beings can be awful cruel to one another”. (Twain 233).  In the battle for freedom, the small battles that go on within the individual are where the war will either be won or lost.  People are often hard enough on themselves -  it seems a useless endeavor to be hard on one another as well – attempting to sway the individual does often work, unless that individual is willing and able to find the strength to go against the grain just as Huck did within the pages of this amazing piece of work.

Works Cited
Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Twain. New York: Barnes and Noble Books. Print.
Gates, Gary J. The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law.   2011, April. Web. 29 May 2011.
*** I was debating whether or not to post this essay, which I wrote for class.  Obviously, I chose to do so.  I got an 85.  Not the best grade ever but good enough for me - being that this was my first essay written in probably - oh - about 13/14 years.  I'll be posting my essay on Daisy Miller shortly.  Still reading Beloved and I haven't gotten very far... pg 33***

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