October 26, 2004

Huck, BE A MAN!

As with the last time I read Huck Finn, years ago, I found the last “adventure” in the book maddening. Up until this point, Huck learned some hard lessons about how things can go wrong, and has forged a (mostly) mutually supportive and respectful relationship with Jim. He is beginning to gain a stronger sense of what his values are and is acting upon them. This is consistent with adolescent cognitive development. Angela Huebner of Virginia Tech explains in her article Adolescent Growth and Development: “Teens tend to exhibit a "justice" orientation. They are quick to point out inconsistencies between adults' words and their actions. They have difficulty seeing shades of gray. They see little room for error.” So far, so good. Unfortunately, he meets up with his risk-taking, thrill-seeking pal Tom Sawyer who, as a peer, has much sway over Huck.

Huck, in some ways, responds to Tom the way Jim responds to Huck. Though Jim clearly has more common sense and wisdom, he defers to Huck. As a slave to whites, he functions under a sense of learned helplessness, acquired as a result of having little control over the circumstances of his life. After Huck and Tom lay out their plans for his grandiose escape, Huck comments: “Jim he couldn’t see no sense in the most of it but he allowed we was white folks and knowed better than him…” (36:188). Under the extroverted, intelligent and domineering Tom’s influence, Huck’s moral compass, quivers but can’t seem to point definitively in the right direction. He actually has more wisdom and common sense (albeit less imagination) than Tom, but makes only a weak attempt to exert it, falling under the spell of Tom’s vision despite his conviction that Tom’s plan is “…one of the most jackass ideas I ever struck…” (31:187). And Jim suffers terribly because of it.

According to an online article in Psychology Today titled “Risk” by: Paul Roberts, “High-risk takers are easily bored.” Though Jim could be easily sprung, Tom won’t hear of it, even though it could potentially put Jim in jeopardy and causes great angst for the Phelps family. Quoting psychologist Salvadore Maddi, Roberts writes: “…high-risk takers may "have a hard time deriving meaning and purpose from everyday life."

As his scheme draws out Jim’s captivity to over 3 weeks, Tom gets completely carried away with the ludicrous details, forcing Jim, among other things, to write on a shirt with his own blood and live with snakes, rats and spiders that bite him. When Tom leaves notes with clues, he practically begs to get caught. Commenting on the nature of thrill-seeking behavior Roberts writes: …the inclination to take high risks may be hard-wired into the brain, intimately linked to arousal and pleasure mechanisms, and may offer such a thrill that it functions like an addiction.

Tom derives so much pleasure from acting out his plan, he fantasizes about prolonging it: “…if only we could keep it up all the rest of our lives and leave Jim to our children to get out…” (37:188). And Huck just sort of goes along. I find this so irritating because I want him to just let Jim out of there. Be a MAN dammit! Oh well, it’s just a book.

Posted by LindaFondrk at October 26, 2004 12:59 PM
Comments

Linda,

"Tom derives so much pleasure from acting out his plan, he fantasizes about prolonging it: “…if only we could deep it up all the rest of our lives and leave Jim to our children to get out…” (37:188). And Huck just sort of goes along. I find this so irritating because I want him to just let Jim out of there. Be a MAN dammit! Oh well, it’s just a book."

Be a MAN! I love that line, because there were points throughout the book when I had the same thoughts. But, I can't really relate to this story. You're blog reflected my thoughts, though. It is always nice to be on the same wavelength as someone else. :)

Katie

Posted by: Katie Aikins at October 26, 2004 10:22 PM

Linda,

What do you think about Tom's "wild" behavior? I thought at times he went a bit overboard. I mean it's healthy to go exploring and have adventures, but whenever Tom got shot in the leg; it seems that he was happy about it.

-Nabila

Posted by: NabilaUddin at October 27, 2004 02:08 PM

Nabila, Yes, Tom was out of control, but this is not uncommon for the age. My son loves, even aspires to get hurt during football and cannot wait to show off his injuries. Go figure. Linda

Posted by: Linda Fondrk at October 28, 2004 09:51 AM

Linda,
great blog, I , as Katie did, agree with many of the points you made. As soon as i read the line,“High-risk takers are easily bored.” I immediately could see Tom.This made me also think about gifted children in a classroom who are so smart they become bored and need to be challanged. Tom may have been bored, but he didn't have to be so cruel to Jim!

Posted by: ErinManko at October 28, 2004 07:48 PM
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