Rachel McKinney, [emailprotected]
Rach’s Huck Finn Paper
Is Huck Finn a hero in the classical sense (i.e. Aeneas, Prometheus, Jason, etc., as well as analogous heroes from other cultures)? How does The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn both comform and deviate from Jung’s macro-myth archetype?
Mark Twain’s story The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is heralded as the “first great American novel,” and has been read by generations upon generations, and translated into almost every written language. While the universal appeal of the book can be taken as a testament to Twain’s talent as a writer, the novel is so widely accepted for a broader reason: it’s formed in the paradigm of a classic “Hero” tale. Twain’s novel is written in the same form as Jason’s pursuit of the golden fleece, the Buddha’s quest for Nirvana, and Moses’ ascension and return from Mount Sinai. Huck is Joseph Campbell’s “hero with a thousand faces”.
The idea of one macro-myth, one story told a million different ways, is part of the basis for C.G. Jung’s theory of collective consciousness. He argued that our dreams and fantasies are played out in the fiction we create ? and that our “personal” dreams are not individual at all, but follow a distinct pattern inherit to all dreams of the same nature. So, naturally, our fairy tales would progress the same way ? variation on a universally common theme.
Jung is famous for this theory, but he is only one of many to explore it. Freidrich Nietzche wrote about the fundementals behind collective consciousness (albeit with different arguments), and Adolf Bastian explored his ethnic “Elementary Ideas.” Among other contemporary thinkers, Jung, Nietzche, and Bastian (if Nietzche can be called ?contemporary’…but I digress) themselves borrowed from previous sources ? Jung admits the very term he uses, archetype, was borrowed from Cicero and Pliny. Bastian mentions the correlation of his own theory of “Elementary Ideas” to that of the Stoic concept of the Ligoi spermatikoi. So Jung was hardly walking foreign ground with his theory of collective consciousness.
Joseph Campbell was a prominent author, editor, and scholar who’s book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, combines the fundamentals of Jung’s work with collective consciousness and Frued’s theory of the subconscious. Thus, when examining a tale for relevance to an archetypal Hero-myth, it is an excellent resource.
So what does this have to do with Huck Finn? Well, as was said before, the hero macro-myth follows a distinct pattern: Separation ? Initiation ? Return. Or, as Campell writes,
A hero ventures forth from the world of the common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered, and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
So, the hero gets from X to Z, by way of Y, and Y is composed of some wacky, wild stuff. And Huck Finn definitely seems to fit these criteria. Furthermore, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn conforms not only to the basic structure of the macro-myth, but some of its lesser characteristics as well.
However, this is not to say that the novel is predictable. To the contrary, the story seems to deviates from the classic macro-myth in very important ways. When Huck begins his quest, he is fueled by the need to escape his father, not called by a higher power as the archetypal Hero is. Huck doesn’t really return to his home after his adventure, he is rescued. Finally, upon his “return”, the boons he gives his fellow man are negligible at best; Jim, it turns out, has been free the whole time, so the reason of his great escape is best summed up by Tom Sawyer himself: “Why, I wanted the adventure of it!”
But these deviations are not as simple as they seem and, in fact, Jung allows for them in his explaination of the macro-myth.
Huck’s father is what Jung calls the “Herald” of the story. His reappearence ushers in the new adventure ? it is a catalyst for all the following events of the book. “The crisis of [the herald’s] appearance is the ?call to adventure,'” as Campbell tells us, “The herald’s summons may be to live…or, at a later moment of the biography, to die.”
Huck escapes his father’s abusive and increasingly erratic behavior by staging his own death. This is also when he crosses the thresh-hold to begin his quest, even though it lacks a distinct end-purpose. Only later, after he joins with Jim, does his journey find purpose (and even here the purpose seems tentative at best, to reach Cairo and find Jim’s family). Jim, although he is “just a dumb ole nigger”, serves as Huck’s protector through the story. He is not Huck’s sidekick, but his guardian. Campbell writes,
For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass.
In Goethe’s Faust, this guide is Mephistopheles, in The Lord of the Rings it is Gandalf, and in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it is Jim, Miss Watson’s runaway slave.
Finally, there is the case that the adventure was all for not because Jim is already free (and if the adventure was all for not, then boons are not bestowed, and the hero-tale is no longer an important reflection on collective consciousness, but a meaningless fable). Once again, this is only the illusion of a deviation. Because the victory of the book was not in freeing Jim, but of Huck recognizing him as a real person, we return to the heroic archetype.
…for now it appears that the perilous journey was a labor not of attainment but of reattainment, not discovery but rediscovery. The godly powers sought and dangerously won are revealed to have been within the heart of the hero all the time.
But…where does all this leave Tom Sawyer?