Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is considered to be one of the greatest novels in American literature, having aroused great interest of study ever since its publication.
Fascinated with Huck and Jim’s mythic adventures, I attempt to use the archetypal approach from the angle of the Trickster to interpret this novel that epitomizes the archetypes of the trickster , particularly concerning the protagonist Huck in my paper. The introduction will give brief review on the theory of Carl Gustav Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychologist, who put forward the archetype of the Trickster, followed by my purpose of choosing this special angle. The paper then deals with the archetypal analysis of the characters. Huck in particular embodies the archetype of the Trickster.
But unlike other figures in the novel, such as Tom who lies purely for fun and the King and Duke lies for profit, Huck’s lies are concerned with survival and identity. Therefore, a close reading of some quotes will be give to demonstrate the uniqueness of Huck as a Trickster. Finally, this paper tries to seek the importance of adopting such an archetype in the novel and its relevance to the theme. For ultimately, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has proved significance as a novel that explores the racial and moral world of its time.
The conclusion will summarize the use of Tricksters in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and how they constitute an integral part of the novel and enrich connotations of the book..Prevailing in the 1950s and 1960s, archetypal criticism is one of the forms in western critical theory. As a literary critical theory, archetype, which plays vital roles in analyzing and exploring literary texts, evolves from anthropology and psychology. English anthropologist James George Frazer, who based his study on myths and rituals, established the anthropological origins of archetypal criticism. But Swiss psychologist Carl Jung defines archetype from the perspective of psychology and he considers that archetypes are “universal symbols” and products of “the collective unconscious” and carry on the ancestors of humans.
The archetypal analysis of a literary work is so important that it can uncover archetypes and their symbolic meanings. The reasons for the high esteem of Huckleberry Finn, as many critics rank it among the masterpieces of world literature, may be traced directly back to the mythological and archetypal implications of Twain’s book. Huckleberry Finn embodies myth that is “both universal and national”(Guerin 189) more than any other novel in literature. This paper thus does not try to grasp it all but focus on the element of tricksterism, the feature that emerges most clearly and helps to give the novel its enduring appeal. Tricksters are archetypal characters that often appear in the myths of various different cultures. People commonly associate trickster(joker, clown, fool, fraud, prankster, con man, magician, witch) with the adjective words such as crafty, cunning, capricious and mischievous.
According to Guerin, the trickster appears to be the opposite of the wise old man because of his close affinity with the shadow archetype(164), of which the most common variant is the Devil. However, it should also be mentioned that he also has a positive side and may even serve as a healing function through his transformative influence. This is supported by Jane Wheelwright, who defines the trickster as “an archetypal shadow figure that represents a primordial, dawning consciousness”(286). While appeared in cultures throughout the world and time, the trickster is particularly notable as a figure of central importance in both African American and American Indian folktales.. Huck tends to be more like the socially conscious Indian Trickster while Tom the manipulative African Trickster.
The basic pattern of the trickster stories in American Indian literature portrays trickster as the one “fixes on a particular goal ”, however, in order to obtain this goal, he will “have to transform his identity radically or change society’s norms.”(Guerin 287) At the beginning of the novel in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck, the uneducated boy, struggles against society and its attempts to civilize him, represented by the Widow Douglas, Miss Watson, and other adults. He escapes society by faking his own death and retreating to Jackson’s Island. On the road of escape, he meets Jim, the runaway slave,and during their journey floating down the Mississippi River on a raft, Huck met and began to know the varied groups of people and the cruel and hypocritic world of the adults. What we see is that Huck always carries on one masquerade after another.
He adopts so many fake names in the course of his travels that he even has a hard time remembering who he claims to be at certain moment in saying “I had forget what my name was”(chapter 19). Moreover, this type of trickster usually attempts to accomplish his aim multiple times. Although the consequence might be a failure, or punishment or getting killed, he always survives to engage again in forbidden activities. When the two men with guns stop by their boat to check , Huck lies and says “it ain’t anything much” in such a realistic tone that makes the two men think his pap’s got smallpox, thus successfully hides Jim and protects himself. Together with other cases, the folk figure of the Indian Trickster shows itself in Huckleberry Finn.