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Homeless And Neglected Children In The 19th Century

2158 words - 9 pages

Homeless and Neglected Children in the 19th Century

       In his novel Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain creates a fictional character that must confront very real problems as a result of cultural and social issues of the time.  Many of these such issues, slavery and race relations being the most prominent, are dealt with significantly by the author, but another issue not addressed in any sort of overtly significant manner is the plight of homeless, neglected, and otherwise abused children in the 19th century.  While Twain in no way attempts to create a commentary on these issues, one cannot avoid focusing on the situation in which he has placed his protagonist.  On the surface, Twain's words seem to convey a relatively light-hearted approach to the dysfunctional relationship between Huck and Pap.  If one looks beyond this light-hearted tone, she can see that he is approaching the issue of neglected children casually so as to focus on what he considers to be the more important relationship between Huck and Jim.  This does not mean that we should ignore the fact that, despite Jim's role as a sort of surrogate father, Huck is essentially a parentless runaway.  Twain is not actually glorifying Huck's life as a neglected, runaway child, but we can see that his life as a runaway was preferable to the alternatives available to him, which were either to be adopted, or to become one of the many poor children in the 19th century who worked their days away.  Not enough critical attention has been paid to this aspect of the novel, which realistically reflects the state of child welfare in the 19th century.

       Twain only shows the reader a glimpse of Huck's life with Pap, before his death, but this is enough to raise the question of which would be worse, living with an alcoholic and abusive parent, or living in the woods, catching one's own food?  Huck is also met with a variety of potentially life threatening situations during his time running and hiding with Jim.  Again, Huck is a mere figment of the author's imagination; therefore, when confronted with a dangerous situation, he is able to make correct choices for himself, at the young age of 12.  It is hard to believe that most real world 12-year-old children would be capable of making the same good choices when left to their own devices.  Granted, Huck was accustomed to a life of neglect, which would feasibly enable him to deal better with the atrocities and demands of his particular situation, but the sadness lies in the fact that he had become accustomed to such a life in the first place.

      In today’s world, children are seen as individuals who have certain rights as human beings, and who are worthy of external (or non family) protection.  This has not always been the case.  For the better part of the 19th century, there were no rules or regulations in effect that prevented the mistreatment of children, since they were thought to be completely under the control of their immediate...

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