The Three Keepers
Literature being the art of literary works has stayed with us for centuries already depicting lives both fictional and real in ways, which are touched by a writer’s creativity, intellect and philosophy. In this essay I am expressing the significance of three narratives from three prominent literary artists- enough to still make them part of our textbook as featured works.
Let me begin with my assessment of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Fin- a novel published in 1884. I must admit that the inclusion of this novel in the curriculum of American literature subjects faced a lot challenges especially in the 90’s. This is due to the presumed racist characteristic of the novel in its portrayal of a person named Jim that was at the same time referred many times as a nigger. The main argument was the comic attribute of the novel, which was presented at the expense of Jim. However in consideration of other critiques which view the two other lead characters named Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Fin’s adventure as leading to an illustration of the fallacies of racism and in its assumptions of slavery- one must make the work useful in understanding the main sentiment of the author. Jim was humanized in the novel in this regard and should present an important role in the story besides comedy. It remains still a debate as to whether the intention of the writer was to confirm or challenge the late-nineteenth-century racial stereotypes in particular against the black.
The American Library Association reports Mark Twain’s novel as the 1990’s fifth most often challenged book in the US, nonetheless it is without a doubt one of the first American novels that has induced regionalism in a deliberate setting. Aside from the political issue of Adventures of Huckleberry Fin, the novel deserves to be taught and read among students like us who are living in the contemporary in order for us to feel and acknowledge life in the olden times specifically and quite interestingly along Mississippi River. The journey of Tom Sawyer and Huck Fin (narrator) who are best friends and a run away slave Jim has been referred to as an image of escape and freedom in the American literature. In terms of the analysis of Twain’s style and technique; the novel used coarse language and emphasizing on stereotypes of their times. Yet, instead of viewing this as a disadvantage, literature being mirrors of truth written either in subtlety or not should see this manner as reflecting honesty. One must not forget that the characters here were young lads who may or may not be aware of the existence of racism. Hence, I presume that the novel challenges its readers into reading it as adults both filled with imagination and meaning.
The second work, which must be retained in our textbook, is Kate Chopin’s The Awakening that was published in 1899. Once again it is a short novel that earned the title as a proto-feminist forerunner to modernism in America. It is about Edna Pontellier (protagonist) a mother who explores her roles and scrutinizes the value of happiness. Just like Mark Twain’s earlier discussed novel, this too was condemned for its sexual themes and other related explorations on the meaning of love, resistance to control, the value of motherhood and the immorality of suicide. Unlike Mark Twain whose inclination to such subjects were not previously accounted for, Kate Chopin was popular for her radical views. It was challenged due to its uniqueness as a literary work that presented women issues, which were veiled before- she was successful in revealing facts in the most artistic way and in promoting the uncommon. By presenting the concept of an ideal woman and giving it eccentric features because those were against the mainstream quality of women of its time, Chopin gave the conservatives reason to ostracize it while the desire for change lives among the hopefuls. The novel’s main character isolated her self and became unresponsive to many things including her responsibilities in the family and instead moved to a new house and preferred solitary thoughts. During Chopin’s period, women were not allowed to be independent instead rely heavily on men thus were obliged to stay at home and assume duties the Victorian lifestyle. Nonetheless, its title should suggest an optimistic point of view for readers who are more open-minded and critical- an awakening of spirit for men and women alike. Her style was simple and direct but communicating with those who are in search of happiness that may be trapped due to one’s assumption of duties. Like Huckleberry Fin it bore a controversial theme that was restricted in the society at the time of its publication. Kate Chopin rebelled against those prohibitions and utilized her talent as a way to render freedom and pursue her rights. Some say The Awakening was far more different in terms of approach than her previous novels; then the more we should include her work in our study so that we could examine an author’s transformation of thoughts and ideals in terms of her writing styles. Albeit criticized for its straightforward fashion, the novel used symbolism like Louisiana oaks, the sea and the moonlight. 1899 was a time when most women in the United States were just starting to practice their new rights. Indeed, the character of Edna showed a strong character for a woman who was willing to abandon everything for the sake of freedom and happiness.
The third literary work is My Antonia written by Willa Cather. It is an ideal work, which deals with varied cultures and ethnic values, which were brought by the immigrants of Nebraska. It is a novel about building new culture and nation amongst those who chose to leave their origin in search for new lives and greener pasture. In particular, she used the Slavonic, Germanic, Scandinavian, Bohemian and Latin inhabitants. The novel will stir the curiosity of readers who wish to identify the reasons behind the characters’ decision to move to a new place- the America. It is a good historical definition of the pains, sufferings and difficulties of life on the rural Nebraska during the late nineteenth century. There is so much courage manifested in the author’s character hence it is a more real depiction of the remote folks of the western prairies. Her novel was significant to her own life having been witnessed to Nebraska’s wonders and curses. Yet her novel inculcated to the readers a sense of pride for the pioneers of this land who strived so hard to pursue their American dream. Antonia, the protagonist was admired for her harmony and creativity with her environment and over all contribution for the society she belongs.
Land was made a symbol to great hardships and great rewards. If one works hard for it, one shall reap great benefits. It tells so much about the authors’ own feelings which made it unique. It seems a controversial also since immigration itself has been a contested issue in America. Discrimination and stereotypes arise due to the existence of other non-American cultures. The novel My Antonia by Willa Cather, revealed these different types of discrimination – racism, sexist, and anti-immigration during the 1800s. Jim, another character made offensive descriptions to an African-American child and a woman, simply because they were thought to be inferior to another race. Racism was illustrated as a phenomenon, which leads one class to view others as ugly and barbaric. The natives became untrusting of foreigners, another consequence of racial discrimination. Family values were also shaped by these norms of racism, patriarchalism and ethnocentrism. Symbols, sense, imagery, color, and figures of speech were treated with poetic nature in this novel. Therefore, this novel will best of all benefit the readers in their development of sophistication to identify symbols, myth and figurative language. Controversial as it may be, it is entitled to be called one of the best literary works of its time because of its sincerity to pursue the role of a writer as vanguards of freedom and justice.
In the end, these three novels however distinct are equally moving and philosophical in depicting life, human experience, struggles and goals. Every student of American literature should encounter them; otherwise, our whole understanding of literature will never be the same.