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Children grow up. It is inevitable. And when they grow up, they pass through this stage known as adolescence. This past month’s ’s cover article was about this tricky stage and the science of the brain that is behind the teenage behaviors adults sometimes consider ridiculous. The studies this article sites have found new evidence about the teenage brain. As it turns out, the brain is not fully developed until a person is in their mid-twenties; until that time, the brain is more elastic, and less able to predict long term consequences. This is what causes some of the risk taking and “stupid” behavior of adolescents. It is also a completely necessary phase for the human species because it is the phase that allows adolescents to move away from their parents, and, through that, to evolve. Long before this science came into the light, or was even thought of as science, Mark Twain wrote a book about an adolescent boy in the process of growing up who displays many of the characteristics that have always been associated with teenagers, but could not be explained until recently: . Huckleberry Finn is a classic coming of age story, and Mark Twain uses Huck’s familial adventures on land and his changing relationship with Jim on the raft to showcase the key feature of adolescence: learning through taking risks. This essay will examine the key life lessons Huck learns in his time spent on land, particularly in familial settings, with the widow, pap, the Grangerfords, and the Wilks, and how all the lessons Huck learns go into his decision to go to hell near the end of the novel.
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Jim’s loss of character and obvious reliance on Huck does not diminish the meaning of the novel but, instead, adds to the central theme of the deterioration of character in society. The river, which represents a respite from society, is where Jim develops a personality. During Jim and Huck’s time apart on land, Jim losses all the power and dignity he has managed to collect on the river because of the norms of society. Finally when Tom controls Huck at the end of the novel, Jim also is forced into the background and has to follow what Tom says. Although Jim is an extreme case, society influences us all in similar ways.
Mark Twain uses his celebrated novel to convey Transcendentalist philosophy, subtly at times, but always present. Twain stresses the inherent goodness of the individual by portraying Huck as someone who is pure on the river, shielded, but who is corrupted by society in the form of Tom and the king and the duke. Knowing that Twain also works to incorporate themes of emotional thinking over logic and “reason” over “understanding” helps explain why Huck acts the way he does at times. Finally, Twain heavily integrates nature – namely, the Mississippi River – into the novel to imply that a connection with environment is essential for livelihood. These beliefs – goodness of the individual, emotion, and nature – are those of the Transcendentalist ideology, and Twain, a Transcendentalist himself, puts these in for a reason. As the author of the Great American Novel – the best novel of all time, in the opinion of Ernest Hemingway – he delicately opens the huge reader base of the modern world to Transcendentalist beliefs. Twain does this so well that the uneducated reader is unaware of it, and he ultimately succeeds in exposing the world to the doctrine.
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The third trait of Transcendentalism that Twain includes in is the importance of a connection with nature. At the time of writing, the Second Industrial Revolution was occurring in America, and Twain no doubt wanted to voice his concerns on preserving the environment. Twain’s concerns were valid, looking back. Twain takes great steps to include the purity of nature and its cleansing aspects in , making the Mississippi River a pivotal part of the narrative.
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I know my conclusion is pretty weak. It brings up two (TWO!) new points, that I feel are absolutely necessary to mention, but I can’t figure out how to work into the body of the essay without doubling the length of the essay. Sorry about that. I just wanted to let you know that I was not putting them in there without complete consideration.