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Depiction of Women
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is a novel famed for its satire of the southern antebellum society that was outdated by the time of this book's publishing. Racism seems to be the main theme of the novel besides the entrenched attitudes of the characters. Fictional setting of St. Peter'sburg Missouri at the shores of Mississippi River serves as the setting of the novel some-what between 1835 and 1845. Huck, whom the story revolves around is left in the hands of a widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson who try to civilize him but Huck is just not ready to take any civilization in. He thinks civilized life is kind of a lock-up. Huck who escapes from Miss Watson's Slave Jim with the help of Tom Sawyer but meets his lazy, abusive and drunkard father Pap. He thereafter elaborately plans an escape from his dad by faking death, sailing down the Mississippi River.
Women in Huck Finn are generally portrayed negatively in the book as it used to be in the early 19th century which is the time setting of the book. This brings to the fore the discrimination that women used to endure despite the fact that some were already discriminated against (African Americans). "The novel does contain an effort, albeit a flawed and unfinished one, to transcend the limitations of post-Reconstruction racism and racialism" (Tuire 122).
Women Shown Negatively
Harold mentions that historically, women are portrayed as the weaker gender vulnerable to sexual abuse and lots of discrimination hence leading to the negative view of women in the society. This almost obviously, appears in the Huck Finn since all the characters points towards the not so good role of women as viewed by society. It is possible that Mark Twain gave in to the societal pressure of sexism which was so ripe in the time and setting of this novel. This is because the issue of sexism did not come out clearly in the book that was very appropriate in bringing out the issue being a book that was powerfully dealing with prejudices that existed at the time such as racism, slavery.
In this book, Twain depicts women in the light of how they were being marginalized especially being African Americans. Women according to Twain in this book are responsible for instance when he introduces widow Douglas as the guardian of Huck. Although according to Huck, Douglas is really annoying but in truth, she cares about him. She tries hard to have Huck civilized; she feeds him, clothes him, tries to educate him, prohibits him from smoking, shelters him and stands in as his mother. Douglas has the ability to take his six thousand dollars but she doesn't do that because she just wants to genuinely help Huck. "Twain uses most women as positive characters, using them as foils to negative male characters in the novel" (Harold 1990). Huck's dad, Pap comes along and immediately plots to take away all the money. It is clear here that Widow Douglas who is just a foster mother cares more about Huck than the dad. All the dad ever did for Huck is beat him up seriously and then left, absconding all his duties. He comes back drunk everyday and pounces on Huck but Douglas, being the responsible and loving woman and mom she is, protects him despite the frailty she has as noted by Twain.
The wife of Olivia Clemens who was like Sally Phelps depended so much on her husband. She seemed like she had no other purpose in her life than to bear children and do the household chores. Twain may have not brought out clearly the prejudices facing women in the novel due to his personal life. His wife always looked sickly and could not give him a healthy son. This way, his regard of women may have been compromised. Twain seems to support his own opinion of women by creating the roles of women in the novel mostly of which were negative as per the societal standards.
Women in Good Light
On the positive side, Widow Douglas brings out the good portrayal of women since she tries to civilize Huck but gently unlike Miss Watson and as a result he has a respect for Widow Douglas. He even gets worried whenever he does something that ill make Widow Douglas disappointed. It also depicts kind of clearly that men will prefer women who treat them gently in reference to Widow Douglas treatment of Huck as opposed to Miss Watson who is so strict on him. She even threatens to sell him down the river where the conditions compared to theirs, were worse. The main role Widow Douglas brought out in this section is to civilize Huck and from him create a young man with fear of God. Being a widow herself, she really does a lot in helping Huck considering the fact that she has no man to take care of her.
Miss Watson represents the strict following of rules and regulations. She is so hard on Huck until when Widow Douglas would make her ease up. She was never married therefore a spinster was a word commonly used during the early 19th century, the setting of this book when the lowly work of spinning cloth had been left and considered to be for the unmarried women to earn a living. Miss Watson depicts women in the book as lonely who sometimes live with the extended family. She lives with the widowed sister. Society views her as an outcast and non-entity since she is unmarried, she even make people around her not very comfortable and this can be seen in how Huck and Jim feel about her. Another notion of spinsters is to be the caretaker of others especially the old relatives or infants or the sick. Miss Watson takes care of her widowed sister, she does not have any individual role, or caring for herself, she has to channel all her energy towards helping other and this brings out the side of selflessness in the women in the book, always out to help no notwithstanding the situations leading to that.
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Women according to this book appear to have been condemned to doing all the home jobs while the men do all the professional jobs. Sally Phelps is a perfect example of this kind of a wife because she is left at home to do the entire house wife's job. She is totally dependent on her husband and has no right, they are helpless. They did not have rights then hence all they did was stay at home and do all the work; that was the standard family. In the marriages and relationships at that time, women were confined under the patronage of men who had total control over them in the society. This brings the theme of gender discrimination quite strongly since the iniquities between men and women were glaring. Women are also brought about in the book as not really so important because there are only four minor characters where as all major characters are men.
The part of the novel that brings out the most sexist instance is regarding the Wilk sisters. They are of upper class families and in all that, their only role in the society is to look fine and attractive for men like Huck so that they can be married off. However, these three sisters do not have the brains; as portrayed by the writer, to realize that Dauphin and Duke are con men. They show in the book that women can easily be taken advantage of. They give away their father's treasures to these two conmen posing as their British uncles. Twain further shows male superiority by bringing in Doctor Robinson who saves the girls from these conmen. This shows that women at that time could not think for themselves.
Women also are portrayed negatively as unimportant in the scenario where Huck goes out to find out the latest news about his 'death' dressed as a girl, knowing that this way he would not attract so much attention. He disguises himself as a girl and enters a house of a woman who is a stranger in the area. The woman becomes suspicious of "Huck's true sex" (Tuire 133) as they begin talking thus also bringing out the observant nature of women in some sensitive issues. She brilliantly asks Huck to thread a needle; something Huck could not do thus confirming to her that Huck is a man. She thereafter lets him run away knowing very well that he is a fugitive, she tells Huck of the 3000 dollars bounty on Jim's head for 'killing' Huck. This helps Huck and Jim to escape further thus also showing that women can be trusted when you give them the trust and respect back, not forgetting honesty, as Huck did by not concealinng further his true sex.
Mrs. Watson and Widow Douglas are portrayed as hypocritical too in the novel. Despite their religion, they are racist. This is due to how they treat Huck and their attempts to 'sivilize' him. They both teach Huck some Christian values; Miss Watson tells Huck to pray while he learns about religion from Widow Douglas. Despite all these, they are racist towards Huck.
To accentuate the discrimination against women in the book, Twain portray men as free to go anywhere they please or circumstances take them, this evident when several male characters in the book travel all over such as Huck and Jim. These two characters travel because they are forced by circumstances such as slavery. Others like Peter Wilks also travel a lot in the book. The female characters in the book though are stuck in the settings of their homes doing domestic chores and just staying there emphasizing what the author was trying to put across in the book; women's place in the society is solely domestic. Actually one of the only women who get out of their setting does so while escaping. Sophia Grangerford elopes, something that even leads to a loss of life, her brother Buck. Women who do not adhere to societal guidelines risk rejection. Women are also portrayed as frail and weak in this book as in the example of Aunt Sally when Tom and Huck accidentally lets loose snakes in her house, the author writes that she would 'just lay that work down and light out'.
Three Types of Women
Women in Huck Finn have been divided into three by the author; Mother's or guardians, old spinsters, and girls. Mothers have a level of domestic authority as they are able to keep home in check. They are also loving but strict as in the instance of Widow Douglas. Due to that, they command some respect from the people they live with thus boosting their authority. Miss Watson represents the old spinsters who exert authority by being harsh and show some sense of bitterness that accompanied these type of women in the early 19th century. On his journey, as Twain Writes, Huck encounters young women, some of whom are vulnerable to lies and conmen such as Wilk Sisters. They underscore the vulnerability women faced in the society in those times especially from men who viewed women as inferior and could just play around.
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The incident of the two Wilk sisters does not cast good light about the women in the book. "That doesn't mean Twain was against women's rights or for women's rights. It just means that the question was irrelevant for him." (Piacentino, 2003). It shows that women were rather naïve and allowed men to take advantage of them in many ways; gullibility of women appears here clearly. In January 2003, Publishers Weekly noted that the portrayal of women in this book is more on the negative than positive, it shows how society back early 19th century took advantage of women who were already undergoing other forms of discrimination such as the racial. While showing the existence of slaves and servants for the rich families, women were still under oppression despite having so much thus the fact that it does not matter the much one has but freedom. They were not free. Probably, if the characters, Huck, Miss Watson, Wilk Sisters, Widow Douglas; came back today and saw all the freedom the current woman has, they wouldn't want to die again.
In total compliance with the rules, and respect to writers and authors, the work done here is completely plagiarism-free with proper referencing and citations in whatever place an author's original work is used.
The Huck Finn book is an old book that has been redone severally by many authors, not to mention even the films that were developed from this. It is therefore prone to multiple plagiarisms, which is not the case in this particular job. NClive provides a platform where students or whoever have the opportunity of reviewing books, more often than not, coming up with new ideas that were not seen by other authors, readers, or critiques. These reviews have been used in this work with proper citation as required by the regulations.
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