< >The main characters of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Color Purple, and The Catcher in the Rye begin their stories as lonely, confined, and dependent people battling with their own thoughts versus societal pressures. The three long to be self-reliant and free, but lack the means and the confidence to find themselves. Huck, Celie, and Holden ultimately venture on life-altering journeys to attain their individuality and to discover their worth as human beings.
< >Huckleberry Finn has tremendous difficulty transitioning from an easily influenced person to an independent one. He begins as one of many faithful followers to Tom Sawyer, willing to trail behind him into any dangerous situations because Tom seems more self-confident than he ever allows himself to be. "Everybody was willing" (Twain 9) to Tom's declaration, "we'll start this band of robbers and call it Tom Sawyer's gang" (Twain 9) where their business is "Nothing only [sic] robbery and murder" (Twain 10). Tom is so self-assured that Huck, lacking confidence in himself to make his own decisions without leadership or outside assistance, is restricted from locating his level of confidence while around his dictatorial best friend. Another dominant source of influence in Huck's life is his father, whose relationship with his son is comparable to that of a lord to a slave. Pap tries to cheat Huck out of his money, claiming "all the trouble and all the anxiety and all the expense of raising [Huck]" (Twain 26), so he can go into a drunken stupor and not be concerned about reality. To vent his anger for failed attempts, he punishes his own son through kidnapping, imprisonment, and abuse. Since Huck is slow to realize the hazards his father brings to his life, his retaliation is equally demure. Huck's rare forms of reprisal included, "I didn't want to go to school much before, but reckoned I'd go now to spite Pap" (Twain 23). Despite the pressures of his world, once Huck finally escapes the changes in the young boy are impressive. Not only has Huck made his own decision to leave his father, but he has accomplished a goal he set for himself without the help of anyone else. The swift endeavor from a terrible prison cell to an open river raft with an enlightening companion also dramatically alters Huck's outlook on life. In Huck's words, "Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don't. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft" (Twain 113). This observation demonstrates that Huck's mind is opening to the realm of forming his own opinions, making his own choices, discovering his place in the world, and learning how to decipher things as they come to him. As Huck familiarizes himself with Jim, he gains a respect for companion and is able to look beyond racial lines to form a lasting friendship. Taking his newfound inner strengths into mind, Huck is able to convince Tom to follow his own plan instead of the other way around. In fact, to Huck's great surprise, "Tom Sawyer was in earnest . . . actuly [sic] going to help steal [Jim] out of slavery" (Twain 224). The accomplishment of saving Jim from his prison furthermore gives Huck even better reason to keep floating downriver to discover everything in himself that has been buried after years of subjecting to the judgment of others. Huck's journey on the Mississippi, away from normal life, provides him with endless possibilities of continuing to achieve ambitions of independence.
< >Catcher in the Rye protagonist Holden Caulfield also flees his home in an effort to search for meaning in his life and to obtain his goal of self-sufficiency. Even though Holden has everything he possibly needs - money, good friends, good family, good schools, and a good hat - he believes his life monotonous, and almost everyone and everything around him is "phony" (Salinger 84). While he still feels bound to his family, especially his little sister Phoebe, he craves the ability to leave all he knows merely to experiment with his individuality away from the routine he follows only by force. Holden knows that life will mean nothing if he succumbs to the pressures of mainstream society and endlessly battles against it. He is always trying to act different or unique whenever he can, admitting that he is "the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life . . . If I'm on my way to the store to buy a magazine and somebody asks me where I'm going, I'm liable to say I'm going to the opera" (Salinger 16), just to not seem commonplace. "I'm an exhibitionist," Holden says, "All I need's an audience" (Salinger 29). Holden speculates that he might as well seem interesting rather than be another drone following the will of the people. He leaves his school early to find himself, ironically, in New York City, where communal pressures rule. Holden, however, undermines the system he so despises Holden's attitude toward finding significance and individuality in society illustrates the idea that a person can have everything in the world and still be unhappy. Phoebe, his younger sister, remarks Holden does not "like anything that's happening," embodying the notions her brother is not content with present life. Feeling this resentment toward the world, he plans to leave his family so he can accomplish something that may not be impressive to others, but at least meaningful to him. Holden reminds Phoebe of Robert Burns' poem with the words "If a body catch [sic] a body comin' through the rye" (Salinger 173). Telling his sister he images kids playing in a field of rye near a cliff edge where he is the only adult, his prospective job is "to catch everybody if . . . they're running and they don't look where they're going, I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye . . . that's the only thing I'd really like to be." Holden demonstrates a respect and care for innocence instead of a regard for adults, most of whom are not "too goddam cool. Take my word" (Salinger 193). The young man begins to realize that because "you can't ever find a place that's nice and peaceful" (Salinger 204), he must look deep within himself to discover what he values worthy for his attention. Holden discovers that beyond his concern for the well-being of children, he also appreciates that while he is unlike most people, it is all right to cry and feel sorry for himself. In the end, his humanity and feelings become much more important than contending with the actions of people around him. Holden gains an understanding that is both enlightening and helpful to his inner being, giving him the opportunity to open himself up for new ideas while maintaining his individuality and distinctiveness.
< >Celie's search for freedom and independence throughout The Color Purple differs greatly from the journeys of Holden and Huck. Both young men are able to flee their familiar surroundings whereas Celie is forced to remain in a cruel and degrading setting for nearly her entire life. For the majority of her years, Celie simply believes that since she is a woman - abused, beaten, and raped by men since a child - poor treatment is the only lifestyle she hopes to live, and leaves it at that. Developing the quiet talent to deduce the personalities of others because she is unable to do anything else in her household where women are supposed to be silent, Celie observes things like "Harpo nearly big as his daddy. He strong in body but weak in will" (Walker 35), but she does not seem to possess the ability or the desire to analyze herself, and does not dwell for very long on the subject of her treatment. She even confesses, "I don't know how to fight. All I know how to do is stay alive" (Walker 26). Celie slowly begins to search for her niche in life as she becomes closer friends with, and finally lover to, Shug Avery, and sees Harpo's wife Sofia taking her life into her own hands, never allowing a man dictate over her. Shug and Sofia present Celie with the question of why she allows men to take advantage of her. As she realizes the atrocious lifestyle she has been living - subjected to her husband's cruelty of never giving her sister's letters to her, her father not actually being her father, and her children living in Africa - and begins to pull away, her individuality breaks through remarkably. Through skills she learned as a dependent housewife, she is able to make a healthy living through sewing and keep herself sustained. Surprisingly, once she breaks away from her husband and the world she lived in for so long, she begins to forgive him for all the things he did to her. Celie realizes that hate does not solve anything and takes up too much time in the relatively small amount of time life is. She is able to honestly display her importance in the world to the people in her life without regret because she knows who she is: a woman with a character all her own and that is all that counts in the end.
< >Through beautiful depictions of their characters' metamorphoses, the authors present the feeling that embracing struggle to define individuality and become independent is something everyone needs to do. The authors essentially disclose through their writing that without opinions, ideas, and liberations of their own, people have nothing else to look forward to in life. Huck, Celie, and Holden, who are each representatives of the diverse American culture, must each to look ahead to uncover their full potential as human beings rather than participate in social order.
Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, May 1991.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York, NY: Bantam Books, March 1981.
Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. New York, NY: Pocket Books/Washington Square Press, June 1983.
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