Common Themes of Three Novels
One word to describe the characters: Huckleberry Finn, Emma, and Asher Lev, is unforgettable. The readers are treated to an incredible journey towards self-awareness by these characters. In Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, an adventurous young boy named Huckleberry Finn was set in conflict with his abusive father and people around forcing him to act ‘sivilized’. He has set out on an adventure in the Mississippi river to seek freedom and adventure. Jane Austen’s Emma is about a meddling girl named Emma. The story is basically about Emma’s efforts in matchmaking her friend.
Later in the story, these matchmaking efforts backfired in very interesting ways. Chaim Potok’s novel entitled My Name is Asher Lev is about a gifted young boy named Asher Lev. He is from a devout Jewish family. His gift of art became the source of conflict because his family and people around him view his art as at least a waste of time, at worst demonic and sacrilegious. There will be three elements that I will be using as common themes for the three stories. These are conflict with other people, ethics, and intervention.
All three characters were set in conflicts with the people around them and their environment. These conflicts, light or heavy, focuses on the relationships the protagonists have with other people. All three characters were also interestingly pressured to make big decisions that have big implications in their respective stories. We can categorize this theme as “ethics” as they would have to weigh in things whether it’s right or wrong.
The protagonists also have done some ethically questionable acts during the course of the narratives. For me, all three stories share the theme of “intervention. The protagonist intervened by antagonist is the bulk of these three stories. And sometimes even the protagonists are the ones intervening with the people around them and their environment. The character of Huck started out as a young uneducated boy. He is a son of a drunkard father who is abusive. He was then taken care of by a conservative widow who constantly forces him to be ‘sivilized. ’ As Huck himself said “…she’s going to adopt me and civilize me, I can’t stand it” (Twain, 1884, p 360). We see that the themes of conflict, ethics, and intervention became compacted in just one situation.
The conflict there was that the characters posses conflicting ideas and worldviews. Huck’s situation also showcases the very human trait of being meddlesome with other people’s lives. The conservative widow wants to “sivilize” Huck only because that is her idea of what is right. As he sets out on his journey in pursuit of freedom, he meets Jim. Huck realized that they share the same need for freedom. Their newly acquired freedom has taken its turns as the story progresses. Ethics was also widely tackled in this story. There are instances that they have stolen money form other people.
Later in the story, Jim is captured and sold as a slave. Huck met up with Tom to rescue Jim. He risked even his life for the sake of another person’s freedom. Emma’s character is very interesting and different than the other two. Emma’s character has this fondness with the topic of marriage and matchmaking. Emma had matched Miss Taylor and Mr. Weston. She felt good about her matchmaking and made further matches. These matches didn’t work according to what she had planned. She then made a match between her friends, Harriet with Mr. Elton who later proposed that he likes Emma instead.
In this story, Emma pushed herself into a lot of trouble. She also had to make difficult choices of what to make of the consequences she unintentionally provoked. Asher Lev is constantly bothered to make a choice between his gift of art and his parents’ demand for him to stop painting. He receives constant conflict from his own family that is greatly influenced by their community. He started to question and dislike how the people around him dislike his gift of art. He then meets a renowned painter, Joseph Kahn. They had talks about who Asher should deal with the conflict.
Asher had decided to cut his ear locks. It is a very hard decision because it symbolizes that Asher is ready cut his relation to the tradition he grew up with. In the end, his parents and community disowns him. He took with him a better understanding of himself and of what he should do with his talent. All the characters mentioned share problems concerning their parents intervening with what the protagonists desires. Huck’s father seem to only care for himself and unable to give his son the necessary attention, which I think led to Huck’s irrepressible hunger for freedom and adventure.
The widow who took after him also made matters worst by trying to civilize Huck. The problem with it is Huck is a free soul. He doesn’t want to be contained. The conservative environment also had the same effect. Emma had a slightly different problem. The people around her had tolerated her antics so it continued until it complicated Emma’s and their lives. As the novel says, she is convinced that her decisions were always right (Austen, 1816,p 61). Emma just did what she think is right. Asher Lev’s father strongly disapproves for Asher to pursue his talent.
But Asher cannot blame his father because his father’s opinion is great influenced by their conservative community. For his father, nothing is more important than the living Jewish life (Potok, 1972, p 107). Asher was put under immense pressure because he knows that being conservative is his father’s idea of what is “right” and what he (his son) should also abide. Huck, Asher, and Emma had to do some heavy decision making during the course of their respective stories. Huck may have thought twice before stealing the money from the dead man. He ends up stealing the money anyway.
Emma had to mull over if what she did was right or wrong only after she has already done it. Asher, in my opinion, had the heaviest of decision making of all. Going against one’s own family is never an easy thing. Emma is of course the most meddlesome of them all. Her matchmaking can be interpreted as the want to intervene with the lives of others rather than focusing on her own. Huck showed his being meddlesome by his stealing of the money. For me, this just show justice as his father wanted to meddle with Huck’s six thousand dollars. Even Asher had his share of meddling.
He has shaken the status quo of his family and the conservative community. He had done this by doing his art, which is considered unconventional by his community. This characterization of the protagonists can be considered a flaw. This is not a negative thing because these flaws make fictional characters as human as possible. But not all interventions were of a negative nature. The people these characters met and later on helped in their respective quests also had their share of adding to the complications. Jim was held captive so Huck had to undergo great risks to rescue him.
Emma thought Mr. Elton would be a perfect match for Harriet, as it turns out; Mr. Elton was in love with Emma. Joseph Khan helped Asher in thinking over what he’s been going through. It gets complicated as this led to Asher deciding to pursue his talent against the approval of his parents. This theme had given me the insight that all of us are connected. Everything we do somehow affects the people around us. As a conclusion, These stories have shown us that in order to achieve self-awareness, we are to commit mistakes and learn from them.
We must recognize our flaws and find ways to make them beneficial. We may not choose our own flaws but we certainly choose our own trials. Because in our pursuit of self-awareness we have to make certain decisions that most of the time brings complications. In our journey towards self-awareness some people will get in our way, likewise we can also get in their way. There will also come instances that being right or wrong won’t matter as long as we achieve our goal. If it is the only way to complete our journey, it is very much worth it.