r And The RyeTeenagers everywhere have experienced an emotional bond with the characters Huckleberry Fin, Henry Fleming, and Holden Caulfield while reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Red Badge of Courage, and The Catcher in the Rye. Huck’s adventure down the Mississippi, Henry’s challenging experience in the Civil War, and Holden’s weekend of self examination in New York City present various views of the transition of the adolescent into adulthood. All three characters evolve from na?ve, innocent children to adult men, sharing their experiences, personal interactions, and emotions thus relating to the reader’s own teenage years.
Huckleberry Finn shares his story, a young boy running away from his oppressive father, as his many adventures chronicle his change into a man. Huck Finn grows up in the sense that he loses his youthful innocence and becomes a mature young man. His first step as a naive innocent child is the simple desire to escape from his abusive father, Pap. Huck is trying to escape his corrupt past, but on the river Huck still faces corruption and inevitably loses his innocent view of the world. Huck witnesses the Grangerforld and Shepahrdson feud, an angry lynch mob, and Duke and King tarred and feathered by the town’s people. ?It made me so sick I almost fell out of the tree. I ain’t agoing to tell all that happened- it would make me sick again if I was to do that. I wish I hadn’t ever come ashore that night, to see such things (Twain, 87).? Huck is inexperienced and uneducated, but is expressing his true feelings that the human race is barbaric. Still trying to escape, Huck continues down the river. He is constantly challenged to question his society and the human race, and his final challenge comes when he is forced to make a moral decision over his dilemma about Jim. The prejudice and the hypocrisy of the society he has always known challenges the actions Huck is taking to set Jim free. Huck must decide to either go with the values he was raised or go with his inner desire to save Jim. ?Alright then I’ll go to hell (Twain, 162).? He decides as he rips up his letter turning in Jim. Even though Huck thinks he is morally making the wrong choice, the decision goes against society’s views about the inferior and subhuman black race. Developing a moral ideologue and becoming a man, Huck has become an individual, making the decision himself, living his life the way he wants, and not living his life the way society expects him to. By this decision, Huck sacrifices himself for another human being, taking his final step towards becoming a man.
Henry shares his voyage from a young coward to a brave man as he experiences the American Civil War. Henry goes off to war as an ordinary farm boy with na?ve, romantic views of the glory of war. ?They (battles) might not be distinctly Homeric, but there seemed to be much glory in them. He had read of marches, sieges, conflicts, and he had longed to see it all (Crane, 3).? With this romantic idea of war, he dreams of becoming a hero, yet when the battle begins despite his romantic vision, Henry’s immaturity causes him to flee. Henry’s escape from battle is the act of a child, and he does not realize the severity of his desertion. With childish innocence, he decides to return to his regiment as if nothing has occurred. However before returning, Henry receives what he pretends is a red badge of courage, a battle wound. Henry pretends he received his red badge of courage in battle to allow him to continue his fantasy. Upon returning, Henry watches his long time friend die bravely after fighting in battle, and begins to realize his immaturity, realizing that war is neither about heroism nor victory, but life or death. ?He (Henry) had grown to regard himself merely as part of a vast blue demonstration (Crane, 7).? Henry still deceives his fellow soldiers and receives praise for his fake courage, but the true hero, Jim, receives nothing. After the death of his friend he questions his role in the war, and Henry finally realizes the severity of desertion during battle and begins to loose his selfishness while gaining a concern for others. ?He felt the subtle battle brotherhood more potent even than the cause for which he was fighting (Crane, 33).? Though his previous actions were immature, Henry learns from his mistakes,and uses this newfound knowledge for his courage in the next battle. With brotherhood as his motivation, Henry shows great heroism, and Henry symbolically steals the Confederate flag and goes bravely onto the field without his weapon. This shows Henry’s move from a young coward to brave fighting man. By fighting bravely and entering adulthood, Henry ?put his sin at a distance (Crane, 111),? and states that ?He felt a quiet manhood, nonassertive but of sturdy and strong blood? He was a man (Crane 131).?
Holden Caulfield, a teenage boy caught between the corruptness of growing up and the beauty of staying young and innocent, discovers the answers to his struggle to enter adulthood during his adventure in New York City. Holden, trying to escape from childhood by not going home or staying his last three days at Pency, decides to go out on his own in New York City. Holden was kicked out of Pency, not because of lack of intellect, but because he chooses not to succeed in school to avoid becoming a ?phony? and become an adult thus losing his individuality. However by the conclusion of the novel, Holden realizes that it is inevitable that he grow up, and that he has actually already lost his childhood innocence. Holden is stuck in the emotional turbulence of adolescence, and his battle to go back to the innocent leads him down many paths to escape adulthood. First, he goes to New York, and then at one point he contemplates heading west where he will pretend to be deaf and mute and live a quiet life. At another point, he proposes to his friend, Sally, to escape the adult world together. However depressing, on his last attempt to flee, Holden decides that he cannot save himself, but that perhaps he could save other children from the curse of adulthood. He describes this plan in a metaphor about the catcher in the rye. ?Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around- nobody big I mean- except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff?(Salinger, 173).? Holden blames the adult world for the corruption forcing children into phony-ness. Holden’s resolve is to become the catcher in the rye to save the world. Sadly, Holden soon realizes he does not possess the power to stop the perversion of children. He could not hide from this corruption, and neither can any other children. His realization comes when he sees ?Fuck-you? written on the wall of the school (Salinger, 204). To protect the children, he rubs it off, but then he sees ?Fuck-you? whittled into the wood at the Egyptian Tomb Room in the museum (Salinger, 209). He cannot erase this message. This permanent message makes Holden understand that his dream is unrealistic. With the failure of yet another plan, Holden sinks into depression and decides to go out west. During his last goodbye to his sister while watching her on the carousel, Holden finally realizes he cannot prevent or run away from adult hood. ?The thing is with kids is, if they want to grab for the gold ring, you have to let them do it, not say anything. If they fall off, they fall off, but its bad to say anything to them (Salinger, 211).? To Holden, the golden ring is the desire of children to control their own destiny, and when they fall off they become adults. With the breakdown of all his plans, Holden falls off, sinks into depression, matures reluctantly into an adult, and then returns to his safe haven, home.
Huck, Henry, and Holden share their growth and maturation with the reader differently, but each ends the novel with the passage from childhood to adulthood. If adolescence is the time when people grow the most mentally, creating personality, character, and moral beliefs, then adolescence is the true beginning of a person’s development. A person’s entire life is spent further developing from the seed started in adolescence. Each character begins as an adolescent that is maturing. Through immaturity and na?ve realism, each character attempts to escape reality. As Huck finds adulthood by escaping from his abusive father, as Henry runs into adulthood by escaping from battle, and as Holden stumbles into adult by escaping from the corruptness of growing up, the reader too escapes from his or her own reality and gains a greater sense of realism.
Crane, Stephan. The Red Badge of Courage. 1895. New York: Bantam Books, 1983.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 1885. New York: Dover Publications, 1994.
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. 1945. Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1951.