Self Reliance and Other Essays

Huckleberry Finn: Self-Reliance or Self-Contempt ?

The hero in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in many ways embodies the self-reliant characteristics advocated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Huckleberry Finn acts without consideration for his society’s morality, and without concern for others’ perception of him. However, contrary to Emersonian philosophy, Huck feels guilt over his actions that he believes are wrong in the eyes of society and has a very low opinion of himself; both traits that would certainly not be viewed by Emerson as “self-reliant.”

Huckleberry Finn is a foster child; brought up by a drunkard father and usually homeless, he is accustomed to dressing in rags and sleeping outside amongst animals. While this is the life with which he is comfortable, and does not enjoy leading a “civilized” life, he still believes that the latter is what is “regular and decent” (Twain 9). Huck thus accepts his place at the bottom rung of the social ladder. While he is happiest when free to do as he wishes, without the restrictions of church or school or parental guidance; he nevertheless recognizes his inferiority to those who adhere to such conventions. Specifically, he admires Tom Sawyer, an unworthy idol, and constantly praises Tom’s intelligence, creativity, and even...

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