Many of the novels we have read this semester contain prevailing themes that provide insight into American society. One of these themes that we have closely examined throughout the semester is a person’s right to love. Love is undoubtedly a powerful force in one’s life. As we have seen through our readings, however, this force is often obstructed by the need to conform to social standards. Whether or not a couple is ALLOWED to be in love says a lot about what is socially acceptable for that particular area and time period.
Although love is technically a right given to all, American Literature shows how it is often denied by social standards and therefore ceases to exist. William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! tells Rosa Coldfield’s version of how Thomas Sutpen was the demise of her and her family. As the story progresses, it becomes known that Thomas’s son, Henry, kills Charles Bon to prevent him from marrying his sister, Judith.
One would infer that Henry’s reason for his desperate need to prevent their marriage was because Charles was their half-brother, and therefore their marriage would be considered incest. We come to find out, however, that this is not exactly the case. In Chapter 8, in response to whether or not Judith will marry Bon she says “Yes. I have decided. Brother or not, I have decided. I will. I will (283). ” As the chapter progresses, however, Quentin and Shreve accept that “it’s the miscegenation, not the incest, which (they) can’t bear (285).
”In this case, two socially unaccepted taboos prevent Judith from pursuing her relationship with Bon. The fact that it is worse in the eyes of her family that Judith may be marrying a man with black blood than a man who is her relative, however, says a lot about how strong racial prejudices were in the south during the 1800s.
Judith’s right to love Bon is forcefully obstructed by social norms, and is a perfect example of Southern culture during that time period. Another instance of love being obstructed by social standards is seen in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby. Jay Gatsby, a resident of West Egg and a symbol of new wealth, falls in love with Daisy, a resident of East Egg and a symbol of established wealth.
Daisy and her husband, Tom, are described to have lived in “…a rather distinguished secret society (17)” to which members of old money had often tried and failed to become a part of. Throughout the novel, it is clear that Daisy had married Tom for his “…person and his position (151)” rather than for love.
Yet when Daisy finally accepts that she had never loved Tom and was currently in love with Gatsby, the class divides remain too prevalent for her to pursue a relationship with Gatsby. Tom quotes “ Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions, and next they’ll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white (130). ” From this quote and the happenings throughout the novel, the force obstructing the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy is the social condemnation of new money marrying old money.
The Great Gatsby shows how in our society, is often difficult for people of different economic backgrounds to pursue a relationship. T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is an examination of a typical man’s psychological struggle to express himself emotionally and conform to social standards. Throughout the poem, the narrator shows insecurity in almost everything he does, fearing that his moves will be frowned upon.
He says “There will be time, there will be time to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet” and often asks “Do I dare? ” and thinks about what “they will say. ” His insecurity prevails in an encounter with what seems to be a woman he loves. He seems afraid that the woman will deny him because of his balding hair and thin composure, and thinks about what he should say in order to impress the woman; “And how should I then presume? How should I begin? ”
In the end the narrator concludes that “ It is impossible to say just what I mean,” and he drifts into a fairytale by the sea until “human voice wake us, and we drown.
” Eliot’s poem is an example of a man’s love for a woman being obstructed by his own need to conform to what is socially acceptable of a man. He refuses to open up and share with the woman his feelings in fear that he will be mocked and denied. “The Love Song of Alfred Prufrock” shows the struggles of maintaining masculinity, and the fear a man has of loosing his composure. While the last stories had similar circumstances and outcomes, love doesn’t always have to be between a man and a woman, and social norms aren’t always successful at obstructing love’s powerful force.
In Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, the love shared between Huck and Jim leads to a powerful revelation in Huck’s life and a groundbreaking relationship considering the South’s intrusive social standards. When Huck begins his journey with Jim, he is overcome by an instilled guilt for assisting in the runaway of Miss Watson’s slave. Huck says “ It would get all around, Huck Finn helped a nigger get to his freedom; and if I was to ever see anybody from that town again, I’d be ready to get down and lick his boots for shame (226).
”As their adventure progresses, however, Huck begins to realize how much he enjoys Jim’s company, slave or not; “ But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, just the other kind (227). ” Huck struggles internally with this realization, but cannot get over the feeling in his heart telling him to keep Jim around. Finally, Huck decides that he would not turn in Jim, and that he would go to Hell if that were what it meant.
In this instance, Huck valiantly goes against what is socially acceptable, and the force of love prevails. Huck and Jim remain friends even though it is extremely frowned upon. Although love is a freedom, one can see how easily and often this freedom is taken away due to what is acceptable in the eyes of others. The circumstances involved in the obstruction of love shows a lot about the society in which these characters live, and the values held by the people who lived there.