Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “we do not read literature for improvement or instruction.” However, there are many reasons to disagree with Holmes’ conjecture; there is a great deal of literature that provides philosophical insight along with entertainment. The wisdom and education provided by books such as Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” and Frank Herbert’s “Dune” strongly contradicts Holmes’ view.
“Huckleberry Finn” was a novel written two decades after slavery was abolished in the United States, yet it was set back in the time when slavery was abundant in the South. It has many instances of what could be perceived as racism, but the book is mostly against racism, mostly in its portrayal of Jim. “Huckleberry Finn” shows how Huck and Jim become friends throughout the course of the novel, showing that their friendship can transcend race, an idea revolutionary for its time. At a time when racial tensions were running high in the South, Twain’s book showed how a friendship between a white teenager and a black adult could be pure and authentic. While most adults in the book had many flaws, Jim is mostly compassionate, loyal and benevolent character. In fact, Jim is seen as more of a father figure to Huck than his own father was.
When they undergo their adventure on the raft, Huck and Jim make a connection that was unheard of in those days between black and white men. This connection is shown by the line “I hadn’t had a bite to eat since yesterday, so Jim he got out some corn-dodgers and buttermilk, and pork and cabbage and greens-there ain’t nothing in the world so good, when it’s cooked right- and whilst I eat my supper we talked and had a good time”, which shows how much of a strong connection Huck and Jim really made. When Jim asks why a Frenchman can’t speak English, he simply mirrors the question of why a black man and a white man couldn’t be treated the same: “Is a Frenchman a man?”
Huck’s change in attitude toward slavery over the course of the novel shows Twain’s true attitude toward slavery. At the beginning of the novel, Huck contemplates and even resolves to turn Jim into slavers, thinking that taking someone’s property is immoral. However, Huck’s attitude progressively changes throughout the novel; in Chapter 31 Huck says he would rather “go to hell” than turn Jim in. Jim’s longing for his family and the story about his dead daughter shows his humane side and shows that black men are no different from white men, thus they should not be treated differently.
The novel “Dune” by Frank Herbert centers on a man named Paul Atreides and his struggle to gain back a planet that was given to him and brutally taken away by his longtime rivals. While the novel is one of science fiction’s best because of its plotline, the philosophical points made in the novel make it truly great. The novel uses religion as a driving force in politics at a time when religion was believed to be dying down. Another important revolutionary idea was the human control over ecology. The planet Dune was a desert wasteland, valuable only for its single resource: melange.
Melange, a clear comparison to petroleum, was a resource harvestable only on Dune and was used in everything from prolonging life to powering spaceships for faster-than-light travel. People inevitably try to sculpt the planet to harvest this resource more efficiently, but run the risk of killing the sandworms, the producers of melange, and destroying the economy completely. However, the most important idea in the book is the concept of precognition, the ability to see into the future. The book shows it not as a positive quality, but as something that could ruin your life forever and make it a dull eternity; it poses the question “what is the point of living if you already know everything that will occur in your life?”
Oliver Wendell Holmes said that we don’t read novels for instruction or improvement. However, I think that these two novels significantly oppose Holmes’ idea; they are not only for enjoyment, but they also contain a plethora of ideas that were revolutionary for their time. These works, among others, have provided inspiration and wisdom to countless readers. This is why most works are not simply for enjoyment, but also provide mental stimulation for those that seek it.
Courtney from Study Moose
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