“American literature is male. To read the canon of what is currently considered classic American literature is perforce to identify as male; Our literature neither leaves women alone nor allows them to participate. ” Judith Fetterley (Walker, 171) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel about boys and for boys. As the name says, there are “adventures”, boys like adventures, not ladies. The role of the women in the American literature has been always victim of sexism and discrimination. There are always men who play the principal role.
We can see that in Ulysses, by James Joice (1922); Moby Dick by Herman Melville (1815) or The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925). In the previous work of Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), there are a clear division between men and women too. The main women in Huck’s life all fulfill the same basic role, trying to “civilize” Huck – all without success. This sexual discrimination is based on being the physically weaker gender and thus leading to society’s negative view of women.
In chapter XI, Huck tried to seems a girl and enter to a little shanty to talk to a forty years old woman to get some information about what was happening in St. Petersburg in his absence. The lady discovered that he was a boy for different reasons. The most important thing is what she said to him: “when you set out to thread a needle don’t hold the thread still and fetch the needle up to it; hold the needle still and poke the thread at it; that’s the way a woman most always does, but a man always does t’other way.
And when you throw at a rat or anything, hitch yourself up a tiptoe and fetch your hand up over your head as awkward as you can, and miss your rat about six or seven foot. ” Women are supposed to be who take care about children and house, not to be strong or agile. This is a cliche very used in the American literature. However, there are many female characters in the novel and we can divide them into those who are caretakers and those who are fully dependents. The Women’s role can be independent and self-sufficient when she is an individual character, while women in groups seem to be lower than men.
The individual women, such as the Aunts, Miss Watson, and Widow Douglas, were all self-sufficient, hard working women. They were all educated, and have high morels. None of them could easily be scammed; although Aunt Sally was mislead, she questioned the actions of Huck and Tom. On the other hand, Women in groups were portrayed as simple, unwise and overly trusting. The Wilks sisters, Joanna, Susan and Mary Jane, when their father died, put total trust on their uncles, who were two con men trying to take advantage of them. Enough trust to give the uncles all their money to be invest.
They were dependent because they had never been without who protect them and have no way of knowing what to do in that kind of situation. In chapter XIIX we have a clear example of how dependent can be women in the novel, but at the same point the revelation of one of them. Sophia just run off with Harney Shepherdson, and everyone is looking for them. Huck ask to an slave and he said: “De women folks has gone for to stir up de relations, en ole Mars Saul en de boys tuck dey guns en rode up de river road for to try to ketch dat young man en kill him ‘fo’ he kin git acrost de river wid Miss Sophia.
” As we can notice in this quotation, women are useless; they just run looking for help, while men are who defend the house and do the hard work. But not everything is bad for women in the book. They are supposed to be the one who bear the children and who teach them good manners. We can see it through Widow Douglas and Miss Watson; both are the caretakers of Huck, and the ones who try to civilize him. Miss Watson is what an old lady looks like in this period, the image of what they stand for.
She is described by Huckleberry in chapter I as “a tolerable slim old maid, with goggles on, had just come to live with her, and took a set at me now with a spelling-book. She worked me middling hard for about an hour, and then the widow made her ease up. I couldn’t stood it much longer. ” By ‘widow’ he refers to her sister Widow Douglas, they both live together as old solitaries and, in some way, depressed ladies do in this period. But in the case of Douglas, she was gentler with kids. Twain shows her as how men what ladies to be.
This is the reason why Douglas was married but not Miss Watson, and she was seeing as an old maid. Douglas was respected by Huck because of her gentle hand; he always worries if she will be disappointed in his behavior. Her main functions are to make a religious young man of him and civilize him. Nothing else could be expected out of a woman, especially a widow, she has no man to see after her. Maybe these ideas of the role of women that Twain tries to represent in the book, are based on his personal experiences.
If we take a look into his personal life, his wife Olivia Clemens was very much like Sally Phelps. She was dependent on her husband and served with no other true purpose in life than to run a house and bear children. Sally is a very good example of the prototypical housewife. She is the wife of Silas Phelps and Tom Sawyer’s aunt, and she is totally dependent of her husband. In the novel, The Phelps plays the role of the typical family. Sally does what the typical housewife would do.
Twain remarks her helplessness in chapter XXXII when her husband asks her who is the boy who has in her hands, and she said: “‘Who do you reckon ‘t is? ’ ‘I hain’t no idea. Who IS it? ’‘It’s TOM SAWYER! ’ By jings, I most slumped through the floor! ” She cannot recognize her own nephew. Probably, Sally Phelps depicts what average women were like, she is married and totally helplessness in their relationship because at that time women had no rights, and were totally inferior to the men who controlled the society.
Helplessness in women is also seen in the previous book of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, in the role of Becky Thatcher. Through the novel, we can see that women were nothing special at this time, or at least, this is the way how society views them. A lot of stereotypes appear during the whole novel, caused by the absence of rights and other problems that women had to suffer by this time. Thankfully this will change in the future with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (1969) or The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver (1988), both with a woman as the main character.
Courtney from Study Moose
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