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Lecture 5

ENGL208C Lecture Notes - Lecture 5: Demonology, Egyptology

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Kathryn Mc Arthur

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ENG 208C
Module 5
October 5th 2014
Huckleberry Finn: Mark Twain
An Introduction to Primitivism
Primitivism: the doctrine that primitive peoples, because they had remained closer
to nature and had been less subject to the influences of society, were nobler and
more nearly perfect than civilized people
oSuggests that these peoples were more moral and more divine
The concept of the noble savage forms the basis of much of American children’s
The doctrine of primitivism flourished in 18th century England and France
The doctrine informs the “Sentimentalists” of the romantic movement
Not all of the Romantic Movement subscribed to the doctrine, but the concept
influences the idea of the child as closer to nature and more morally perfect or
This view of childhood is how we have come to think of childhood and child
(sweet and innocent)
The concept was attacked by Dr. Johnson and Edmund Burke
In spite of this disagreement, the concept heavily influenced American writing in
the 19th century
Primitivism is spoken of in two ways
oCultural primitivism prefers the natural to the man made, the uninhibited
to the controlled, the simple and natural rather than the artificed
oChronological primitivism looks backward to a lost golden age
Many childrens writers are innocent chronological primitivisms
Chronological primitivism usually laments the sorry state of the contemporary
world, a direct result of what culture and society have done
oVery quick to criticize the contemporary world for what it has brought
upon itself
James Fennimore Cooper
Very prominent American writer of tales of the noble savage
Wrote stories of cowboys and Indians (as somehow closer to nature and therefore
morally superior)
Cooper’s writing influenced the story of peter pan (the Indians)
A cultural primitivist
An Introduction to Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain as a Primitivist

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Twain may have started out by looking back at a lost golden age, but in his more
mature writing he sees the lost golden age for what it really was
Twain saw that this golden age of chivalry and honor could not exist
Twain was not a chronological primitivist, even though he gives a scathing
commentary on the contemporary civilization
Huckleberry was a book written for a child audience, but meant also for a very
adult audience
Twain comes to a rejection of the lost golden age idea in Huckleberry Finn
In tom Sawyer, we have the golden childhood, or idealized American boyhood
Huckleberry Finn is a much more mature and much darker work
While there are some of the celebratory aspects to Huckleberry Finn that we see
in Tom Sawyer, these are not reserved for the state of boyhood
In huckleberry we have a hymn to the beauty of the natural world, and in
particular, the Mississippi river
Tom sawyer: 1876, Huck is 1885
Was written in the post civil war time period but is set in the pre-Civil war time
The Influence of the Civil War
Civil because it is within a country – the North against the South
oCame to be known as the war to end slavery
oIt began over economic issues
The south had control, and they had the most powerful economy
oThey attempted to go out on their own, the north came in because they
didn’t want to lose the money that the south generated
Ended with the emancipation proclamation and the freeing of the slaves
The South’s economic system was one based on feudalism and patriarchy
oThe planation owner is the head of a huge family (including the slaves)
The south saw itself as an incarnation of a feudal aristocracy, with codes of honor
and were willing to die to defend this ideal
Twain saw past this ideal to the sickness at the moral center of the civilization,
which he exposes in Huckleberry Finn
For twain the southern ideal and everything that supported that ideal became
Tom sawyer in Huckleberry Finn is dangerous
Tom Sawyerism is the reading and following and longing for that lost golden age
that never existed and the kinds of things it leads people to do
The Structure
The story is episodic (Structured around episodes/adventures) and picaresque
oPicaro = rogue
oHuck Finn is a rogue hero

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Held together by the Mississippi river and what it represents (the central theme of
the book)
The book can be divided into three parts:
oSection 1: chapters 1-10
oSection 2: chapters 11-31
oSection 3: Chapters 32-43 (torture of Jim)
The events of the first ten chapters are completed in the last eleven chapters, with
a series of episodes making up the middle section
A book about the horrors of southern society, dangers of romance, the Mississippi
The plot of the book is about the freeing of Jim, a runaway slave, with the help of
Huck, a runaway boy
What is Huck Finn Really About?
The striped states were free states and the others were not (at the time the book is
City of Cairo in Illinois is a free state
oMiss it in the fog and go deep into slave states by accident
This is a book about the quest for freedom, but the freedom is much more than a
physical freedom
Huck is finally at his freest, and Jim is freed, deep in the heart of slave owning
It is around Cairo, when they lose their way in the fog, that Huck begins to see
Doesn’t see Jim as a person or understand their relationship, Jim tells him that he
is no better than the trash on the raft, and then he begins to see him as a real
human being
The freedom that they seek has more to do with the spirit
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