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The Conflict Between The Individual And Society English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2194 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Being an individual and becoming self-reliant is not as easy as it might seem to be. In today’s society and in past societies we have basically been told how to act, appear and even how to think so of course the option of being an individual is much harder to achieve. Back in the late 1800s it was even more difficult than it is now to be an individual and to not just blend into society. People that didn’t blend into society perfectly were looked down upon like Huck Finn. Throughout the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck is constantly spitting in the face of this society. Spiting his community is what Huck actually enjoys doing in his spare time. He finds it humorous and ironic to watch his fellow members of society become disgusted and repulsed at some of his actions and ideas. Huck and Emerson have very similar ideas. Emerson says “trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, and the connection of events. Great men have always done so” (Emerson, 261). Overall, Huck Finn is a perfect example of how society criticizes the individual when Huck is just trying to become self-reliant and think for himself.

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The conflict between the individual and society is the main theme throughout the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Since Huck was raised by the “town drunk” he was not taught properly what is right and wrong according to what the society he lives in believes in as their core values. Throughout the novel Huck faces many different problems with society where he chooses to be his own individual self over his becoming an individual his society thrives upon. Huck basically raised himself so most of his decisions are decided by his basic instincts. Huck chooses to follow his idea of what is right throughout the novel even though many doubt him he doesn’t realize that in all actuality that his own personal decisions are more morally correct then the values and beliefs of the society he resides in.

From the very beginning it is clear to the reader that Huck does not in the least want to conform to society. “The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would civilize me…I got into my old rags and my sugar hogshead again, and was free and satisfied” (Twain, 2). In this quote one can see how as hard as Miss Watson tries to civilize Huck he keeps resorting back to his own ways which are far more comfortable then what Miss Watson is trying to teach him. Miss Watson is constantly trying to transform the young man into the ideal gentlemen that his society enjoys. However, since Huck is so used to always doing what he wants because he’s self-reliant and doesn’t care what others think of him he sees more of Miss Watson as a prison guard and Huck the prisoner rather than a nice lady trying to help a disheveled child develop. Miss Watson never really gives up on Huck and constantly is nagging him to be more of the perfect citizen that she wants him to be. Even at a young age the reader can detect that Huck is an individual. The way Huck is constantly refusing society’s ways of life proves that Huck is an independent young man and has the ability to live his life free of society’s complications thoughts. Huck is actually the perfect example of what Emerson truly believes in and values in someone. Emerson values someone who is self-reliant and can think for themselves instead of being told what to think and Huck early in the novel proves this and progresses throughout. “Man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say “I think”, “I am,” but quotes some saint or sage. He is ashamed before the blade of grass or the blowing rose but he shouldn’t” (Emerson, 270). In this quote Emerson speaks about how man is always following everyone and everything but himself in which he should actually follow the most. Throughout the novel Huck is constantly applying a common theme of freedom. Whether it is freedom from Miss Watsons’s ways of conforming or from society itself Huck is constantly proving he is a free man that will stop at nothing to braise the institution that he lives in.

Once Pap (Huck’s father) is brought back into the novel a custody battle emerges between Miss Watson and Huck’s biological father. In this part of the book the reader can truly observe just how corrupt Huck’s society really is. The court comes to the decision to give Huck back to his father who is an abusive alcoholic, a decision that puts Huck in great danger. The character of Pap represents and symbolizes the viciousness of civilization just like Huck but in a more extreme way where he is actually a bad person compared to a rebel like Huck. It’s ironic to see how later in the novel how society becomes more concerned about finding Huck’s dead body after he is predicted to be “murdered” then actually saving him when he was alive from his abusive and corrupt father. This theory proves Huck’s need for an escape from his society that strikes down the “individual.” In the novel Huck is struggling with two different kinds of family situations with both extremes. Miss Watson is the extreme spectrum of good in society and then when Huck is taken away from her and forced to live with Pap he observes the extreme spectrum of bad in society. Huck is confused on finding a happy median throughout his life and feels that going on adventures away from his problems he is able to become the individual he strives to be.

Individualism and self-reliance is truly observed by Huck however, when Huck and Jim venture down the Mississippi river. At first the journey seems like its going to be an enjoyable experience for everyone since Huck is finally free from his society and the only thing ahead of him is open wilderness. Things soon take a turn for the worse however when some major conflicts on the raft emerge. The raft in a way acts as a kind of isolation device in the novel where all these different racial and individualism problems emerge. Huck is not only becoming more of individual now that he is free, but he also is carrying a runaway slave along with him which is completely looked down upon in their society. Huck is showing his bravery and knowledge of right and wrong. Even though Huck never really comes out in the novel and says he doesn’t believe in slavery, the reader cant but get the hint that he wouldn’t develop a friendship and provide so much security for Jim if he agreed with slavery. In Huck’s society providing an escape plan for a runaway slave is like helping a life sentenced convict to freedom. The reader would think Huck would enjoy having Jim since he represents completely defying society but Huck feels like he is committing a terrible sin for keeping Jim since Jim is someone’s property and that would be considered theft. Huck doesn’t recognize that his own personal belief that is alright to help Jim is actually more morally correct then society’s idea. However, it is important to point out that Huck doesn’t feel bad about helping a runaway slave and defying the act of slavery but rather just taking something from Miss Watson that isn’t his. “The other terrible that scares us from self-trust is our consistency: a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we loath to disappoint them” (Emerson, 265). This quote explains perfectly what Huck is going through. Huck wants to help Jim but he can’t get the idea out of his head that he is still “stealing” from Miss Watson and Huck doesn’t want to disappoint her because she welcomed Huck into her household with open arms and love.

In chapter 16 the reader observes the most inhuman action that Huck’s society has to offer. While going down the river Huck meets two men hunting for runaway slaves. The men are very eager to board Huck’s raft while Jim hides but Huck tells the two men that the man hiding is his father and he is diseased with smallpox. The men decide to aide Huck with money to help his father and tell Huck not to mention that his father has smallpox when receiving medical care. The part that is ironic in this part of the book is that the men are willing to capture and probably torture runaway slaves but are not apt to help a man in need with a sickness. Individualism is developed in this part by Huck since he was just reminiscing about how bad he felt that he was harboring a runaway slave but when the opportunity for him to get rid of Jim comes about, Huck denies the chance and saves Jim’s life completely defying society. “A person should look at himself for inspiration, judgment, and validation of his own thoughts and ideas” (Emerson). In this quote by Emerson I feel like it fits Huck’s situation perfectly. Huck had to think about and look at himself of whether or not to turn Jim in too society. In the end Huck decided not to turn in Jim by looking at his self judgment of the situation.

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Huck demonstrates at the end of the book that he defies society but he still a good person and has moral values that has potential to help society become a better place. After picking up two robbers who make up fake names and stories of their past Jim and Huck enjoy the company. However, after they stop at an old farm Huck sees that the men are much worse than he had ever thought. The men are constantly conning innocent people of their money and even though Huck does not turn them in until almost the end of the novel he still does the right thing and figures out that he wants to be an individual and be self-reliant like Emerson but there are better ways of becoming an individual and becoming self-reliant then sacrificing personal morals and becoming a harming individual. Huck appears he now has grown up more than ever and is finally making decisions that still make him self-reliant but doesn’t hurt society in any way. Huck can see way beyond his years almost into the future that some morals that society has now are going to be considered moral-less behavior in the future.

In the chapters following the bandits actually try to sell Jim to a buyer who is interested in the slave but Huck ends up setting Jim free. In this part of the book Huck demonstrates all the doubts he had at the beginning of the book with whether or not to turn Jim in becomes resolved. Huck realizes that Jim is more than a slave and is in fact his equal. I think this part of the novel is important because Huck doesn’t only practice individuality but now sees Jim as an individual as well and not just a slave. Huck grows to look past skin color and society standards to truly see Jim as the man that really is. Being an individual as well as self reliant is not about looking down upon one another thinking that you are a superior individual, it is about being who you are and not having any doubts about yourself. Huck defiantly learns this lesson in this part of the book and demonstrates it perfectly when he decided to save Jim and realize he actually cares about him as well. Also at the very end of the book Huck is offered to be adopted by Tom’s aunt which would probably be Huck’s biggest dream come true but after this long adventure and all the life lessons Huck has learned he declines the aunt’s proposal and decides he wants to set out for the west. Huck has now become completely self reliant. He has rejected the help of others and wants to create a life for himself the way he wants it to be.

Overall I would say Huck truly relates to Emerson’s point of view. It’s really interesting to think that there are people out in the world even today that are like Huck and are defying society and looking beyond their years for what will truly be morally correct in the future. Huck is truly a role model to all; he’s a person who is not afraid to speak his mind, take opportunities and point out wrong and the right even when society tells him he is the wrong one in the situation. We need more people like Huck that are self-reliant and are able to think for themselves and are not intimidated by not acting, looking and thinking the way society tells us too. Throughout the novel Huck really becomes self reliant and really lives up to Emerson’s standards of individuality. Everyone wants to be famous and if you look to the past Emerson talks about how many of the greatest inventors and the most respected people to ever live in history were self-reliant and had the gift to be able to think for themselves. “Every person has his or her own inner thoughts, no one thinks the same” (Emerson). It would be interesting to see if everyone thought for themselves how much more advanced and different our society would truly be.


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