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Jeremy Keeshin

Rebellion and the Search For Identity

Jeremy Keeshin It is natural for youth to reject society. This rejection is blatantly evident in today’s culture of gangs and drugs and dismissing authority. This is a necessary step in maturing that helps teens and young people in general find their identity. They say high school is a time for experimentation, and this is because teens need to circulate through different groups and activities to find to which they belong. Rebellion in youth searching for their identity has existed throughout the ages. In his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain highlights the struggle of the search for identity in youth. The title character, Huckleberry Finn, does not have an identity and this leads him to rebel against society. Huck’s rebellion exacerbates his lack of identity, and his struggle and failure to find his identity is integral to him establishing his own needs so that he can integrate into society. Huckleberry Finn does not have an identity because he fails to establish his life in one place and is incapable of being sure of his own ideas. Huck’s life is characterized by life on the move; right from the onset of the novel he cannot seem to settle down his life permanently. He starts off with the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson, then ends up with his father, then goes on the lam with Jim, then goes and stays with the Grangerfords. After that, Huck finds himself traveling in the company of the duke and the king, and then they end up residing with the Wilks family. After Jim is sold, Huck arrives at the Phelps farm, where he pretends to be Tom Sawyer, until he is caught at the end. Huck’s movements between locations are significant because they reveal that he has not found a place where he fits in, and this causes him to keep moving. His lack of a place to stay reveals that he does not have an identity, and is not sure of what to do with himself. Early in the novel the Widow Douglas realizes Tom is misplaced in the eyes of society when she calls him a “poor lost lamb” (32). Huck realizes that he too is misplaced, but cannot identify a solution. He says, “All I wanted was to go

Jeremy Keeshin somewheres; all I wanted was a change” (33). His initial company realizes he is lost, and this proves he does not have an identity. Huck’s stay at the Grangerfords reveals his inability to settle down at one place, and his insecurity with his actions. At Huck’s arrival he tells the reader “they said I could have a home there as long as I wanted it” (110). This is a vital turning point for Huckleberry because he had the chance to settle down and find a place to interpret himself. He stays for a little and enjoys their company, but after one rocky incident he is gone. Huck says, “I was mighty down-hearted; so I made up my mind I wouldn’t ever go anear that house again, because I reckoned I was to blame, somehow” (123). He suddenly feels guilty and indirectly responsible for the actions. Had Huck had an identity and been confident in it, he would have known himself and been able to make his decision more rationally. Additionally, early on in the novel Huck’s visceral actions are evident. When Miss Watson tells Huck to pray and it fails to work for him, he says, “No says I to myself, there ain’t nothing in it” (40). This reveals his shallow understanding of prayer, and his quick dismissal of the idea reveals the nature of his primitive decisions. Huckleberry Finn struggles to find his identity because when his life seems to be at a crossroads, he debates himself about which way to act and what he thinks is right. The chief indicator of Huck’s struggle to find his identity is when he feels guilty in certain situations, and his conscience affects the way he acts. Huck feels guilty multiple times over Jim’s freedom, and that he is directly responsible for the illegal act of freeing a slave. The strength the battle in his conscience is revealed when he says, “I got to feeling so mean and so miserable I most wished I was dead” (101). Huck resolves to give Jim up, but when two men come to search for Jim, Huck bravely defends him because Jim is his only friend. Huck sways back and forth over this issue multiple times over the book. Huck’s struggle to find his identity is demonstrated here by the

Jeremy Keeshin way that he argues with himself but is unsure what he truly believes. Huck struggles later about Jim when he decides to write a letter telling Miss Watson where he is. He was trying to rid him self of sin by praying, but he realizes his heart isn’t in his words. Huck tells the reader, “You cant pray a lie—I found that out” (200). His struggle for identity and a sense of right and wrong arise again in this situation. He cannot determine whether or not to act how he feels or act in what he thinks is right. He feels that he should help Jim but his morality tells him he should act the other way. His inability to determine leaves him acting instinctively and helping Jim. Huck struggles with his identity when he gives up on morality when he says, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell” (201). At this juncture Huck does not know what he is in this for. The reader sees Huck’s struggle to find his identity by the way he assumes aliases and lies about his personality. Huck’s compulsive lying indicates strongly that he struggles to find out who he is. He is Huckleberry Finn, he is Sarah Williams in town, he is George Peters in town also, he is dead, he is alive, he is George Jaxon, he is Tom Sawyer, he is from England, he is definitely not from England; he is a boy of many contradictions. He assumes the role of people he is not because he does not know who he is. The reader sees the complexity of the layers of lies when Mrs. Judith Loftus says goodbye to Huck: “Now trot along to your uncle, Sarah Mary Williams George Elexander Peters” (80). Huck’s struggle to find an identity is epitomized by the way he tests out others’ to see if they fit him. At the end of the book Huck says he needs to be civilized once again, just as he did at the start, revealing that he got nowhere in his search for identity. Huckleberry Finn needs to integrate in society so that he can find a static place of belonging and steady companionship. Society is the tendency of human beings to organize themselves into communities of similar interests and similar goals. Humans are naturally drawn

Jeremy Keeshin in to society, because it is important for them to create binding and lasting relations that make them feel connected to something. The irony of Huck and Jim is that they become connected to one another by being disconnected from everyone else. Jim realizes how important Huck is to him when he says, “Huck; you’s de bes’ fren’ Jim’s ever had; en you’s de only fren’ ole Jim’s got now” (102). However, disappointingly, Huck can never explicitly state the extent to which he values Jim. He implicitly gives this information to the reader when he decides numerous times to keep Jim around for the sake of company. In these instances Huck acknowledges the importance of Jim’s company. Before Huck realizes Jim is on the same island as him, he admits that he is getting lonely: “But by-and-by it got sort of lonesome, and so I went and set on the bank and listened to the currents washing along, and counted the stars and drift-logs and rafts that come down, and then went to bed” (62). At this time, Huck is completely isolated from society so he is thrilled to see Jim, an outcast like himself. Huck says, “I bet I was glad to see him,” revealing his excitement and appreciation of his company (64). Huck needed to make connections to people, and his friendship with Jim was an important step in him starting to reunite with civilization. Huck’s rebellious nature made it difficult for him to accept the laws of society, and his disconnection from society made it impossible for him to find his identity. He was a lost child, but his acquaintance with Jim allowed him some connection with other people. In his journey with the duke and king, and again with Tom, he was influenced easily by their decisions because he did not have the resolve to stand up and make his own. Huck was the stereotypical young southern boy, and his character demonstrates the difficulty of finding one’s identity when many outsiders are trying to mold you otherwise. Twain’s novel emphasizes the journey of youth and the struggle of finding one’s place in society.

Jeremy Keeshin Works Cited

Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004.