Monday, 4 July 2011

Scarlet Letter vs. Huckleberry Finn

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Many authors find satire a successful tactic to lure and influence readers. Satire is the use of irony, sarcasm, or caustic wit to attack or expose foolishness and stupidity. The meaning of the satire in a novel is not always found easily, often taking careful attention to the connotation of words in order to catch the author’s intention. Without closely looking at each novel, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Nathanial Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, one may miss the fundamentally similar use of satire. Yes, Huckleberry Finn is a story of a youthful freedom seeker traveling down the Mississippi attempting to help his black friend escape slavery while The Scarlet Letter is a strange allegory of an adulterous woman who has been cast from society and forced to where a scarlet A. However, stylistically, both authors use satire as their main rhetorical devise to condemn and criticize society’s ignorance and gullibility.

In the midst of the literal storyline of each novel, Twain and Hawthorne criticize the ignorance of the society of which they have set their story. In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain criticizes the ignorance of white men to suppose racial superiority. Twain primarily portrays this through Huck’s instinctive feelings of Jim. For instance, Huck has been brought up to believe blacks are inferior to whites, yet Huck realizes something similar between them as he admits about Jim, “I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folk does for their’n” and “Had an uncommon level head, for a nigger.” However, white superiority is such a basic law to Huck that this is too hard for him to comprehend; as a result he justifies it with believing, “I knowned he was white inside.” Here Twain brilliantly uses irony. Twain also uses Huck’s pap to satirize white man’s imposed superiority over blacks. Pap is Twain’s stereotype when it comes to ignorant people. For example, in one of Pap’s drunken rages he criticizes the government for allowing blacks to vote, “And they call that a govment.” In that scene, Twain makes his point obvious; no one can miss pap’s inherent stupidity. In a much more subtle way than Twain, Hawthorne criticizes Puritan society. He uses satire to condemn the ignorance of Puritan people who think they are better than Hester Prynne because of her exposed sin; yet, at the same time sin themselves. In doing this Hawthorne chiefly uses fantastic symbolism to exaggerate and therefore attack the alleged difference in Hester and Puritan society. Such symbolism includes the brook, as the Minister says, “I have such a fancy…that this brook is the boundary between two worlds, and you can never meet thy Pearl again.” Here Hawthorne is making the point that Hester, because of her sin, and her daughter Pearl are different and the brook is symbolic of a divider. Other fabulous symbolism includes the sunlight, as the innocent Pearl exclaims, “The sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom.” Even though Pearl never realizes she acts with society, Hawthorne often uses her to exaggerate the difference of Hester and society. Another tactic Hawthorne uses to depict Puritan ignorance is to show their hypocrisy. For example, Hester has been know for her excellent embroidery, yet “It is not recorded that, in a single instance, her skill was called in aid to embroider the white veil,” writes Hawthorne. To the Puritans it seems to be acceptable for Hester to make anything but the pure white veil. Yet, all men’s hearts are as sinful as Hester’s. Hawthorne uses Pearl and Hester’s relationship as Twain uses Huck and Jim’s relationship; in both relationships one character upholds society’s view while the other believes differently. Concisely, both authors satirize events and mindsets to condemn the ignorance of their detested society.

In much the same way as ignorance, both authors criticize the gullibility of their novel’s society. Even though Hawthorne and Twain express this theme with less emphasis they both use satire to attack the foolishness of normal citizens, or society. In Huckleberry Finn, Twain uses the King and the Duke to point out society’s gullibility. The King and Duke are con men who find their way into impersonating the brothers of a recently deceased man to gain his inheritance. As Twain purposely makes these men out to be very bad actors the villagers rarely question their validity as the King says, “Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side?” Twain is very straight forward in his satire here; even the con men know the villagers are fools. Huck also comments on how these conmen have tricked the villagers, “Thy’ve got a good thing going here…they’ve played this family and this town for all they’re worth.” Again Twain comically uses irony to criticize society. Resembling The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Scarlet Letter criticizes the gullibility of its villagers who never suspect that the Minister Dimmesdale is the sinful partner of Hester. To create the satirist effect Hawthorne primarily uses irony; the reader knows Dimmesdale is Hester’s partner. In this excerpt, Hawthorne portrays the villagers thoughts on why Dimmesdale is sick, “’People say,’ said another, ‘that the Reverend Master Dimmesdale, her godly pastor, takes it very grievously to his heart that such a scandal has come upon his congregation.” The reader, however, knows that the reverend is sick because of the hidden sin in his heart not the affect Hester’s sin has had on his congregation. Later in the story, Dimmesdale says to Hester, “Thou little knowest what a relief it is…to look into the eye that recognizes me for what I am.” Dimmesdale is relieved, after seven years, to finally talk to someone who knows his heart, for the common villagers do not. Throughout the novel Hawthorne utilizes the reader’s knowledge to criticize the foolishness of society to not think outside the lines. In each narrative, both authors expressed that in society it is rare for someone to think for themselves. Each author, through the reader’s laughter or foreknowledge satirizes the gullibility of their novel’s society.

Even though The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn differs from The Scarlet Letter in denotation, both authors criticize and condemn the ignorance and gullibility of society with the use of satire. Twain satirizes society’s ignorance of color and Hawthorne satirizes society’s ignorance of morality while both ridicule the gullibility of society to not think independently. Hawthorne and Twain satirize society in similar ways. In conclusion, both novels main intent was to satirize the society of each setting.

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