Women In Mark Twain's The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn

2807 words - 11 pages

Women in Adventures of Huck Finn

When critically examining a piece of literature one holds in high regard, she or he often tends to feel compelled to defend the work. Since Adventures of Huck Finn is one of my favorite novels, I am speaking about myself; however, I resolved I would consult the text for a theory, not apply my ideas of what the book represents. After reading Nancy Walker's essay "Reformers and Young Maidens: Women and Virtue in Adventures of Huck Finn," I looked at the novel with a question in mind: did Mark Twain simply apply contemporary stereotypes when creating his female characters? I put aside my bias towards the novel and considered Mary Ellen Goad's contention "that [the female characters] are merely flat and stereotypical" (Walker). My essay is not a dismissal of Walker's thesis, as I recognize her illustration of Twain's use of the "morally virtuous woman" stereotype, but a closer look at the portrayal of women in the novel with consideration for Goad's generalization. The preliminary significant factor is Goad's and Walker's sex: being women, they have more of an inclination to criticize the representations of their own sex in the novel than I do as a man. Judith Fetterleg discusses the conflict women encounter when reading nineteenth and twentieth-century American literature: "...the female reader is co-opted into participation in an experience from which she is explicitly excluded; she is asked to identify with a selfhood that defines itself in opposition to her; she is required to identify against herself" (xii). I consider it an advantage to be able to critically look at Huck Finn without preestablished conflict, (being of the same sex as the novel's author and intended audience), while testing the revered novel for stereotypes with consideration for feminist attitudes. Secondly, there is the issue of the narrative voice: does Huck's perspective affect how women are depicted, or is Twain's characterization independent from Huck's scope? The novel's viewpoint is consistent in its descriptions of both men and women, clearly a product of Huck's attitudes. This is significant not only because it serves as a barometer for Huck's maturation, but also because it distinguishes Twain's loyalty to Huck's character and not his own ideals: Twain gives Huck the autonomy to tell the entire story. Some stereotypical elements of women appear in the novel, but overall, Twain did not reproduce stereotypes. I assert this based on a comparison between what the stereotypes of Victorian women were and an objective look at the traits of the women in Huck Finn.

According to Nancy Woloch, Victorian women were expected to be "pious, pure, gentle...and sacrificing" (Vasilakis). Most of the women Huck encounters are religious, but so are many of the men, especially Silas Phelps. This general characteristic is likely explained by the region Huck Finn is set in, the "Bible Belt"; however, the first two women in Huck Finn, Widow Douglas...

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