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Ignoring Reality

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Ignoring Reality:

Expectations, Stereotypes, and the Social Hierarchy

In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain questions whether or not people truly know each other. On the surface, the people that Huck interacts with provide a cross-section of Southern life, sampled as Huck's path crosses with theirs. As each different encounter is observed, however, a pattern seems to emerge; the author provides his protagonist Huck Finn, with many apparently entertaining adventures as he journeys down the Mississippi River with Jim, a runaway slave. Through the relationships that Huck Finn experiences, Mark Twain suggests that expectations, stereotypes, and social hierarchy plays into people's preference to see the image of a person rather than the actual person.

The first person we see through Huck's eye is the Widow Douglas. Through the Widow Douglas's treatment towards Huck, we see how societal expectations effect her perception of Huck. Twain portrays Huck as an independent, free willed boy whose natural habitat is outside rather than indoors. Unfortunately, the Widow Douglas, Huck's caretaker, ignores Huck's natural tendencies and focuses on making Huck into the ideal societal perception of what a child should be, an educated, Christian boy:

The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me[...]and so when I couldn't stand it no longer I lit out. [...]I went back [...] She put me in them new clothes again, and I couldn't do nothing but sweat and sweat, and feel all cramped up. Well, then, the old thing commenced again. (1-2)

The Widow knows that Huck is not comfortable with the restrictions she enforces and she chooses to disregard Huck's desires, and he ultimately runs away because he feels "stuck" and "cramped." By running away, Huck realizes the Widow Douglas will not change, and realizes he would rather run away than be the person she wants him to be. The Widow clings to her ways upon Huck's return to join the band of robbers Tom wanted to make, foreshadowing Huck's future escape with Jim. Widow Douglas is left with the unfinished task of creating the perfect child, Huck also with regrets for disappointing her. Although Widow Douglas is patient and does not force her beliefs on Huck, he is unable to change for her showing how unsuited they are to each other. Twain suggests that assumptions based on expectations make both sides unhappy.

Twain's tale depicts that stereotypes tend to cloud people's perception of others. The Duke and the Dauphin, a pair of con men Huck and Jim rescue, joins Huck on his adventure. They continuously take advantage of Huck's situation: when the Duke and the Dauphin create a large plan involving the Wilks family, they order Huck around and refuse to tell him anything about their plan:

When the boat was gone the king made me up another mile to a lonesome place, and then he got ashore and says:

"Now hustle back, right off, and fetch the duke up here, and the new carpet-bags. And if he's gone over to t'other side, go over there and git him. And tell him to git himself up regardless. Shove along, now."

I see what HE was up to; but I never said nothing, of course. (175)

The Dauphin thinks up a plan, but he does not tell Huck anything. While the reader knows Huck's skills in lying and planning, Dauphin does not realize this and believes Huck can not contribute anything. Although Huck has gone through many adventures without them that required a mature and quick mind including running away with Jim and not getting caught, the Dauphin still sees Huck as a little, naпve boy who wouldn't understand his plan. The Duke and the Dauphin immediately disregard and assume Huck couldn't contribute to their plans, and see Huck as only a boy. Ironically, Huck's naпve little boy look and his talent at lying saves him from being accused of his own scheme when Huck hides the money that the Duke and Dauphin just obtained from the Wilks family in a coffin. The assumptions block reality, and the Duke and Dauphin are unable to see Huck's true personality and talents. Even in the end of the book, Twain scorns the Duke and Dauphin's



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