Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"King"+"Duke"= Outrageous Dastardly Duo

We all know that Twain loves the problem of mistaken identity and impostures.  We have seen impostures in The Prince and The Pauper, with the switched identities of the royal prince and the poor pauper.  We have also seen many instances of deceptive identities in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  One of the most recent occurances of deceptive identities is the episode where the "king" and the "duke" pretend to be Mary Jane's uncles and brothers of the deceased (Chapters 25-27).  This case of deceptive identities is probably the most horrid occurance of impostures I have seen in Huck Finn.  Just to remind yall what happened in these chapters, Mary Jane's father passes away, and the king and the duke come in to town pretending to be her uncles- Harvey and William.  The king and the duke get the "familial" hospitality one would expect from family members and they end up with "three thousand dollars in gold" (178) minus"four hundred and fifteen dollars" (179).  The two "uncles" put on an extravagent show that they will give the money to the orphaned Mary Jane and her sisters.  However, that is not really what the "uncles" plan to do.  they plan to try and find the missing money, sell the family's slaves, and the family's land property to get the most out of this poor family.  TERRIBLE!

However, the duke didn't really want to "rob a lot of orphans of everything they had"(190) but, the king wanted everything- what a GREEDY sorry excuse of a "man".  The king explains,
     "We shan't rob 'em of nothing at all but jes the money.  The people that buys the property is the suff'rers; because as soon's it's found out 'at we didn't own it-which won't be long after we've slid-the sale won't be valid, and it'll all go back to the estate. These yer orphans'll git their house back agin, and that's enough for them; they're young and spry, and k'n easy earn a livin'. " (190)
Even if the slaves and the land property ownership will be given back to Mary Jane and her siblings, the king is horrid.  the king, duke, and Huck pulls off an elaborate hoax of deceitful identities and trickery that, for now, leave Huck with situations that question his morality- however, this is a totally different topic.

Maybe Twain is trying to say that we should be aware of strangers and not trust anyone fully.  This is the cycnical side of me but, even family members can even be untrstworthy.  When people are decieving others, they are lying (obviously), but also faking their way through life.  Through all this faking and dishonesty-acting, maybe one loses oneself and does not truly know who they are.  Or is Twain saying that in reality, we all have different identities that we try out, through the process of growing up and maturing, to figure out who we are?  Is Twain commenting on the fact that we- you, me, everyone, immitate others, whether real or fiction to try out who we want to be?

Strangers Role in Huck Finn

The role of the stranger in Huckleberry Finn is interesting to me because you get to see how Mark Twain feels about strangers and how they act through the eyes of Huckleberry Finn who is most of the time a stranger to other in the book.  Huck Finn meets many stranger throughout the book and to all of them he lies.  Many times Huck lies to people to protect Jim from prosecution like when he ran into men looking for run away slaves on the Mississippi when hes trying to get to shore and ask his where abouts.  "Is your man white or black? ...'He's white.' 'I reckon we'll go and see for ourselves.' ...'Pap'll be mighty much obleeged to you, i can tell you. Everybody goes away when i want them to help me tow the raft.'"  Huck lets the men decide and come to their own conclusions from there.  The men ask Huck if his father has contracted smallpox and Huck says that he has.  Huck must lie in order to keep Jim safe from the clutches of slavery.  Huck does not lie because he is trying to swindle people he is lieing because he wishes to keep Jim safe. Huck also lies about who he is to keep himself safe from being returned to his abusive father. " Who done it? We've considerable about these goings on, down in Hookerville, but we don't know who 'twas that killed Huck Finn.' ' Well i reckon there's a right smart chance of people here that'd like to know who killed him. Some thinks old Finn done it himself." No-is that so?"  This shows that Huck made the right decision in lieing and that from now on Huck will never tell any stranger along the Mississippi who he truely is because it will mean they will turn him in since there is a two hundred dollar reward out for him. Huck is also not a very good liar because when the old lady sees him thread a needle she knows that he is not who he says he is, which is a girl since he has dressed up in girls cloths.  She figures it out and he tells yet another lie which she accepts.  Huck also gets caught in a lie when he is talking to the Hare lipped girl that the Duke and the King are stealing the inheritance from.  He talks of England and the King and how he regularly attends church but he forgets where he was suppose to live and she calls him out on it.  She asks how the king goes to church in Sheffield every day if he lives in London.  He makes up some cockamame story and she also believes it.  While Huck is a stranger and does a considerable amount of lieing he does'nt do it because he is trying to get money and cheat others he does it to protect himself and Jim.  This makes it interesting when you compare it to how strangers in Twains other stories are always self interested and lie because they want to cheat the other.  I wonder if Huck is actually going to turn out to be as self interested a liar in the end as the other stranger in Twains stories.

Common hoaxes in Twain's stories vs. hoax in Huck Finn

Twain uses a number of hoaxes in quite a few of his stories. We have discussed this in class, but I have recently noticed that many of the people who are playing the hoax on whoever, tend to get away in Twain’s stories. In the short story The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, we see Jim Smiley get conned out of money when a stranger came into town and Smiley bet the stranger that his frog could out jump any frog, so the stranger told Smiley, “I ain’t got no frog; but if I had a frog, I’d bet you” (CSS 5). This caused Smiley to go into the swamps and get the stranger a frog; the stranger took this opportunity to fill the frog with quail-shot so that the frog would be too heavy to jump. Once the challenge began and Smiley’s frog, Daniel, didn’t jump he was very confused because he had trained this frog for a while. Well, Smiley that meant that Smiley lost the bet, and the stranger got away with the hoax, “the feller took the money and started away” (6). Also, in Twain’s short story The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg, the stranger that plays a trick on the town gets away with it once again, with no consequences. Through an elaborate series of letters and a large lump sum of cash waiting to be collected by the person who could give the correct answer, a man was able to corrupt “the most honest and upright town in all the region around about” (419); “Hadleyburg in reality was an incorruptible town” (420). The stranger showed that this town was, in fact, corruptible and that the people weren’t as honest as they were made out to be. The man, once again, played out his hoax and did it with no consequence to himself. This seems to be a common theme in Twain’s works, the person playing the hoax doesn’t get punished, but the people who are being tricked seem to be the ones that do get punished.

I bring these two stories up because it is important to note that in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, when Huck tries to play a hoax on Jim it backfires. In chapter 15, Huck tries to convince Jim that he has been in the raft with him the whole time. He tells Jim “I hain’t seen no fog, nor no islands, nor no troubles, nor nothing. I been setting here talking with you all night till you went to sleep about ten minutes ago, and I reckon I done the same” (Huckleberry Finn 97). Jim doesn’t seem convinced that what they had just endured was only a dream, but once he realized that Huck was trying to trick him, Jim was very upset. He made sure to let Huck know how he really felt:

when I wake up en fine you back agin’, all safe en soun’, de tears come en I could a got down on my knees en kiss’ yo’ foot I’s so thankful. En all you wuz thinkin ‘bout wuz how you could make a fool uv ole Jim wid a lie. Dat truck dah is trash; en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren’s en makes ‘em ashamed (98),

which made Huck feel guilty about his actions. After a while Hick apologizes to Jim and explains “I didn’t do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn’t done that one if I’d a knowed it would make him feel that way” (98). This hoax doesn’t seem to be like the majority of the hoaxes played in Twain’s other stories; this time the person who plays the trick, Huck, is punished for his actions by Jim, who was having the trick played on him. It makes me wonder why Twain choses this particular hoax to have a different outcome than the majority of his other hoaxes in stories? Is it because Huck is a young boy instead of a man? Or is it because he is playing a trick on a friend instead of a stranger?

Why did Huck have a change of heart?

Do you think that Huck is a moral person?  This is an extremely difficult question to answer, simply because every person can have a different perspective of what being "moral" means.  This would mean that we can have tons of different answers or statements over Huck's morality.  In class, my group talked about why, after the funeral, did Huck suddenly have a change of heart.  Although we all agreed that generally Huck did the right thing, and was always pretty moral. He still stole things (or 'borrowed') just to survive.  We all chose the same passage, "Well, if ever I struck anything like it, I'm a nigger.  It was enough to make a body ashamed of the human race."  I thought that this passage was showing that Huck suddenly realized that they were going to con a group of people, who hadn't done anything wrong.  It wasn't as if they were conning people because they needed the money to survive.  Early, Huck had borrowed a chicken, because Jim and him had needed it to survive.  This was different.  Huck was in a gang, led by the king and the duke, who were using these people's emotions, to gain a profit.  It really is a terrible situation, and Huck finally realizes this.  Before I had read the three most recent chapters, I wasn't sure how Huck was going to act.  If he was going to tell the town what they were doing, and that the king and duke were frauds, or if he was just going to let the con happen.  

So far, Huck has decided to take the plan into his own hands, and has taken the money from the king and duke and hidden it in the coffin.  He plans to write a letter to Mary Jane and let her know where the money is in a few weeks. I believe Huck's actions now, prove that our originally theory about this particular situation made Huck somehow feel uncomfortable.  My question to you, is why?  Why was this situation different for Huck?  Why did his guilty conscience suddenly spark, and make him realize that what he was doing was wrong?  Was it because the people they were stealing from didn't deserve it?  What do you think?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Roxy as the Sambo?

Roxy is a complicated character  to say the least.  She appears to be white physically but is a slave.  She buys into and believes the white aristocratic ideals yet, those very ideals keep her enslaved. She played the part of a sambo slave, which in itself is a very contradictory stereotype.  She physically acted submissive and content, yet mentally thought the opposite.  Roxy has so many different clashing characteristics, which lead me to believe in some way, she is playing the part of the Sambo slave.  In the first blog, I briefly mentioned what a sambo slave is like.  This stereotypical slave appears to be submissive, childlike, ignorant, happy, and content, with their station in life- slavery.  However, underneath the act, the sambo is cunning, smart, and manipulative, like Roxy.

On the surface, Roxy appears to be content and plays the part of the submissive sambo perfectly- "she began to long to see him.  She would fawn upon him, slave-like-for this would have to be her attitude of course-..." (page 101)  She knew how to get by with the white folk, to be undetected of her intelligence and manipulation.  She had to act the part of the sambo type of slave to get what she wanted, which is what most other cases of sambo slaves did, they played the part of contentment and submissiveness to achieve their goals, whether it be ultimate freedom, white masters' trust, or less severe physical labor/ punishment.  Roxy manipulated the imposter Tom, her son, to get money and survive.  She threatened him with his exposure of the one thirty-first drop of "nigger" blood (Chapter 8,15); thus showing her intelligence and cunning.

However, in the end, Roxy is too complex for just one stereotype, she goes beyond the bounds of just the sambo.  She is a strong- willed and intelligent woman.  She is a product of her atmosphere.  Roxy defies the ideal of a 19th century woman, her character breaks some of those stereotypical social norms.  She is as independent as she can be in a slave society, she plays a hoax on everyone in Dawson's Landing, and she is openly intelligent. 


I am writing this blog report on Roxy and the confusing nature of her personality and views on slavery.  Roxy was a house slave for the Driscolls in the story Pudd'n Head Wilson,  her complexion is white and she is only one sixteen black, she switched her baby for the child of Master Driscoll when they were babies.  "Tom" and "Valet" are the two boys and Tom is her true son.  "Tom" grows up as her master and their relation is interesting because although he is her son he is also her master. "Tom" is mean and cruel to her and "Valet" eventually the elder, Percy Driscoll dies and in his will sets Roxy free.  She spends a couple years on a boat that sails up and down the Mississippi as a chambermaid.  She chooses to remember "Tom" as nice and kind and overlooks his cruelty in her memories.  She returns broke because a bank went bankrupt and lost her money.  She at first begs "Tom" to help her and give her a few dollars.  He remains cruel and mean and says no until she holds over his head knowledge of what he thinks is his gambling debt. She reveals to him the truth, that he is actually her son and a nigger.  From then on he struggles and gives her large amounts of money every week.  This is interesting because Roxy seems to only care about the money that she can get from her son.  She cares naught about him and has no problem black mailing her own son.  After a while she asserts her control and begins dictating what "Tom" needs to do so he can keep him inheritance from the Judge who was Percy Driscolls brother and caretaker of "Tom".  The way that Roxy treats the inheritance is almost as if it is far more important than "Tom" to her.  She is very self interested and only cares about her own well being, and seems to only care for "Tom" because he is the fulcrum that her well being swings on.  Although when things turn for the worse again and "Tom" once again gets himself into gambling debt.  She offers to sell herself into slavery again so he can pay off his debt and keep his inheritance.  He betrays her and sells her down river and into chattel slavery.  She catches a bit of luck when she runs away from her new master and finds that the boat that she served as a chambermaid on for years is close to port.  She hops on and returns to her son to make him guilty.  She then demands that he go and steal the money needed to pay for her freedom from Judge Driscoll.  "Tom" has no choice but to obey his mother for she is still black mailing him.  He does and ends up killing his "Uncle".  Throughout the book Roxy was a powerful and influential character.  Although she did not play the role of loving mother very well, most of her decisions revolved around self interests and money.

Would Twain Be as Influential in Modern Times?

The few short stories and full length Twain stories we've read have had very similar themes.  Most deal with slavery, racism, titles, birthrights, and peoples roles in society.  In most of the stories, Twain has two characters switch places; sometimes on purpose, and sometimes without either characters knowledge.  The Prince and The Pauper is the first novel that we read that dealt with Tom and Edward switching places, and really learning the lesson that the grass isn't greener on the other side.  The book brings up the fact that relatively no loved ones or family members can tell the difference between either boy.  (Eventually Tom Canty's mother realizes that Edward is not her son, but it does take a while).

"Pudd'N Head Wilson"is the story of two boys and how they deal with growing up, not knowing that they are living lies.  The real Chamber's mother, Roxy, switched the babies at birth so that her son could grow up as a white man and be saved from being sold down the river.  This story is also able to succeed because once again, the father of Tom (the white slaver owner), cannot tell the difference between the two boys.

But as I read these books, and listened to the discussions in class, I was wondering whether Twain would be as effective now-a-days, as he was when these books were released.  He constantly used the twins or people switching places ploy/hoax, to bring about questions of whether a birthright exists, or if people will grow up differently, if they are given different opportunities.  Although he pokes fun at America, and it being the land of opportunity, I feel that most people in modern times have about the same chance as being successful as their neighbor.  This doesn't mean that every person in America has the same chances, but I feel as though the playing field has definitely evened out over the last 50 years or so.

Most of Twain's writing deals with huge themes like slavery and racism, which I mentioned before, and was able to use some very cool plot devices to help readers see things from other angles.  We still have problems within society, but I still don't think that Twain would be as influential if he lived in todays world.  Now, I'm sure that Twain would use different types of story telling to poke fun at the American lifestyle or politics, but I do think that the level of opportunity most Americans have, they can succeed without having to be born into money or status.

Some of the counter arguments to this would be that people who are born into money/higher class status gives them a leg up on other, less fortunate, people.  This is true, but if you look at some of the biggest success stories in recent times, like Bill Gates, JK Rowling, or even Barack Obama, you can see the trend of a person with a huge drive to succeed, struggling with either being poor, or having less opportunity that other, and in these cases, Gates, Rowling and Obama, were able to succeed.

Do you think that in modern times, there is a better chance for people to be successful in their lives. Or do you think that you're born into it?