In his essay “The Pattern of Fictional Experience,” critic Ihan Hassan states that in contemporary literature “the hero is a man alone” (326). It is inherently American to be self-reliant and independent of society. In literature this independence is often explored through the archetype of the outsider. Mark Twain’s own obsession with the idea of solitude and society led him to explore the issue of identity in his stories, and the archetype of the outcast is particularly prevalent in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Twain stresses the importance of the independent vagrant hero. Huck Finn is the quintessential outsider and an adequate representation of the contemporary hero in American fiction.
Readers are first introduced to the character of Huckleberry Finn in the sixth chapter of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: “Shortly Tom came upon the juvenile pariah of the village, Huckleberry Finn, son of the town drunkard” (67). By stating that Huck is the son of the town drunkard, Twain is already instating Huck’s position as an outsider, a member of “forbidden society”. Critic John Erskine suggests that Huck is not supposed to “be an average boy” like Tom Sawyer, “Huckleberry is explained by his father” (Erskine, 299). Twain goes on to further describe the character of Huck in his introduction:
Huckleberry was cordially hated and dreaded by all the mothers of the town, because he was idle and lawless and vulgar and bad. . .Tom was like the rest of the respectable boys, in that he envied Huckleberry his gaudy outcast condition, and was under strict orders not to play with him. Huckleberry came and went, at his own free will (67).
Huck is possibly the only truly independent character in the stories of Tom Sawyer and in his own Adventures. Huck comes from a broken home—a drunken father and a mother who is never alluded to—he lives for himself and no one else “nobody forbade him to fight; he never had to wash, nor put on clean clothes” (68). He is described in a fashion that hearkens back to the Dark Romantic period, even referred to as a “romantic outcast”—much like Mary Shelley’s outcast creature in Frankenstein is called a “noble and godlike” (Shelley, 156).
Unlike the hero in ancient or Romantic literature, however, Huck Finn represents the new contemporary hero popular in modern American Fiction. Whereas the classic hero is “’a purely social creation [representing] a socially approved norm,” the modern hero has “no accepted norms of feeling or conduct to which [he or she] may appeal” and is often portrayed as a “rebel or victim” who is “at odds with [his or her] environment” (Hassan, 329). Huckleberry Finn...