In this brief paper, I will probe into three common literary elements governing the development of the three protagonists from three novels: namely, Emma from Emma by Jane Austen,1 Huck from The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin by Mark Twain,2 and Asher from My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. 3 Although written against the background of different contexts, the three novels share some common themes that inform the reader of the way the protagonists were developed. The thesis statement of this paper would thus be: the common literary elements present in the three novels influence the reader to perceive the characters as heroic.
The idea of the hero in the modern sense is someone who was able to prevail in the end despite the extraordinary circumstances he/she had to face. However, in analyzing the three protagonists as heroic, it is crucial to understand each and one of them within their particular contexts. In this way, we don’t prove guilty of conflating their specificities. Emma lives in the small village of Highbury and is prudish when it comes to expressing her romantic side. Yet, in the end, she was able to overcome this and marry the man of her dreams. Huck, on the other hand, is someone who is very expressive of what he feels.
Yet, unlike Emma, Huck is situated in a harsher setting therefore is struggle is greater in scale. As opposed to Emma yet similar to Huck, Asher pursued his love for painting even though his community was very much against it. It cannot be denied that despite the nuances in the character, we see the visible trace of heroism as common among them. Their commonality as heroic figures, in fact, is molded by the common literary elements present in the novel. One striking common literary element is the setting of the novels or more particularly the historical context that hinders the struggle of each character for self-determination.
A second literary element that can be a ground for contrast or comparison would be characterization. Characterization refers to the attitude or disposition of each character that serves as the “inciting force” for conflict. The third literary element would the presence of a foil or particular character that functioned in the novels to inspire the three characters to keep on reaching for whatever they desire. The setting, characterization and foil are three literary elements in the novels that inform the way each protagonist can be read as heroes. The Setting
The three characters are situated within a particular setting or context that they had to transcend in order to realize their selfhood. The setting functions as a kind of hindrance that stifles each of the character. However, the three characters prove that their social context, rather than stop them, challenges them to succeed. In Emma, we see how the patriarchal setting burdens not only the female protagonist but also the other female characters in the novel. Emma Woodhouse, a twenty-year-old mature young lady, as the novel describes her, struggles to find true love for herself and her friends amidst the male dominated society.
We see how patriarchy is at work in the novel through the social activities the women engage in, including Emma. Despite her intelligence and wealth, Emma remained in the house doing mostly nothing but set up her friends to different gentlemen. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin, Huck tries to detach himself not from a prominent patriarchal society but from a racist setting. For Huck, the “sivilizing” (to use his own term) society that forces him to adhere to the rules that support racism is unjustified. One social norm that he finds extremely wrong is slavery.
Being from the lower-middle class, Huck is witness to various injustices that he resists to internalize. His relationship with Jim, a slave, is a prime example of Huck’s struggle to traverse what society tells him to do. Despite the prohibitions established by the law towards slaves, Huck remained fair and humane in his treatment of other people. We see how Huck tries to detach himself from an oppressive setting in one passage where he escaped with Jim to the river: “Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don’t.
You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft. ”4 As compared to the society he got used to, Huck considers the raft as a respite or retreat from the outside world. In My Name is Asher Lev, the social context Asher has to deal with is the Ladover Hasidic culture. Asher’s struggle against his own environment is quite different from Emma and Huck. In contrast to Emma and Huck, Asher fights for his art amidst his discomforting community. During his childhood, Asher caused much worry to his elders because of his artistic tastes.
In one instance during class, Asher drew a menacing looking picture of the Rebbe in his Chumash. The spiritual teacher of Asher’s school, the Mashpia, immediately talked to Asher which caused the latter to breakdown and cry. However later on, Asher realized that he must reconcile with his unsupportive community without being chained to it. In his apartment in Paris, Asher says intimates, “away from my world, alone in an apartment that offered me neither memories nor roots, I began to find old and distant memories of my own, long buried by pain and time and slowly brought to the surface now.
For Asher, the only way to completely move on from his painful past is to accept it as part of his own being. Characterization and Conflict What is interesting about the three characters is the attitude or disposition they possess. This attitude or disposition however, runs counter to the society they are situated in. Each of the character’s unique role function as a kind of inciting force that makes the conflict more overt. In the case of Emma, her penchant for matchmaking often causes trouble not only to her friends but to herself.
According to the narrator, “The real evils, indeed, of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself: these were the disadvantages which threatened alloy to her many enjoyments. ”6 Emma’s knack for arranging the romantic relationships of the people around her has been a source of various problems in the novel. When she paired Harriet with a gentleman, the situation only devastated Harriet as the relationship is impossible since Harriet belongs to a lower social status.
Also, Emma’s matchmaking causes conflict and intrigue among a number of characters in the novel particularly Jane Fairfax, Frank Churchill, Mr. Knightley. However, in comparison to the conflicts experience by Huck and Asher, Emma’s own conflicts are relatively much milder. Huck’s own conflicts are engendered by his ability to think outside the social norms. This attitude of Huck enabled him to become a warm human being as opposed to the other characters in the novel who remained cloistered in social laws. While Emma is more accepting of her surroundings, Huck is completely against it.
Huck’s stance against slavery and racism placed him in a position opposed to the other white-skinned characters. Despite this conflict, Huck remained adversarial towards what to him is an unjust environment. We can see this in the final part of the novel where Huck says: “But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before. ”7 This passage suggests the Huck is determined not to go back to the society he considers unfair.
In contrast to Huck, Emma accepts in the end her own society and the culture that reinforces it. While Emma subsumes her own self to society and Huck alienates his self from it, Asher on the other hand refuses to be completely under his community’s control yet at the same time accepts the fact that he is part of it. The rest of My Name is Asher Lev deals with Asher’s own struggles caused by his love for painting. His artistic vision, we are informed, is in conflict with the culture of his community. When he invited his mother and father to one his show, Asher tells this to himself: “I saw my mythic ancestor.
Come with me, my precious Asher. You and I will walk together through the centuries, each of us for our separate deeds that unbalanced the world. ”8 Asher describes the painting as something that “unbalances the world. ” Still, he pursued painting even though he knows that this is against his family and community. For Asher, it is only through painting that he can express himself. Therefore he feels he must cherish this art that gives him a voice. The Support of Other Characters In the fact of a conflict, the three characters were all supported by a foil or a key character.
These supporting characters are crucial figures who helped the protagonists to their journey towards self-realization In Emma, there can be no doubt that this character is Mr. Knightley. During conflict, Mr. Knightley served as the pillar for good sense. It is not surprising therefore that Emma realized in the end that he has strong affections for Mr. Knightley. The narrator describes Emma’s affection towards Mr. Knightley in the following passage: “Why was it so much worse that Harriet should be in love with Mr. Knightley than with Frank Churchill? Why was the evil so dreadfully increased by Harriet’s having some hope of a return?
It darted through her with the speed of an arrow that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself! ”9 For Huck, it is not a lover but a friend who helped him survive his own struggle. The character who served as a father figure to Huck is Jim. Although a slave of Miss Watson, Jim helped Huck get through the trials in his life and vise versa. When Jim and Huck were on the river, the former become the father Huck never had. Jim functioned as a kind of buffer to the trials in Huck’s life particularly the instance when they saw the corpse of Huck’s biological father, Pap.
In My Name is Asher Lev, Asher’s foil is his own teacher later on. Since Asher’s passion is painting, the character who helped him realize his full potential is Jacob Khan. Even before he met Jacob Khan, Asher’s passion for painting often causes him to commit something that his community reviles. For instance, as Asher confesses: “I put five tubes of oil color, a bottle of turpentine, and a bottle of linseed oil into my coat pockets.
I slipped two bristle brushes into my loose-leaf notebook. Before I left the store I bought a small canvas board; I had enough money for that. 10 Asher steals painting materials from Krinsky’s store in order to pursue his love for art. The moment he met Jacob, Asher’s desire to paint has been pushed further. As an accomplished sculptor who left his Jewish roots for his art, Jacob understands perfectly well what Asher is going through. He sees in Asher the makings of a successful artist – and rightly so. Despite his strict training, Jacob has been a strong influence in the artistic development of Asher.
Conclusion The literary elements of setting, characterization and foil actually serve as reading tools through which we make sense of the heroic journey of Emma, Huck and Asher . Despite the difference in terms of each character’s particularity, this paper tried to show that the literary elements in the three novels enabled a comparative reading of the character as heroes. The characters’ commonality in terms of 1) the setting or the social context that obstructs their selfhood 2) their attitudes that are out of joint with the dominant culture of their society 3) a foil or the presence of a key character that supported them in their life-journey, allowed us to compare and contrast the novels in terms of the the heroic dimension of the protagonists.