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Master of Arts (M.A.)




Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn contains three character types which serve as models for the protagonists of certain twentieth century writers. The distinguishing characteristics of Tom, Jim, and Huck reappear in the central figures of later American novels, novels dealing explicitly with the relationship between human perception and consequent behavior. The contrasting perceptions of Mark Twain's characters provide his novel with thematic tensions that, in distinct and enlarged forms, become basic interests of major twentieth century writers. The tragedy of fixed perceptions in a world of constant flux concerned William Faulkner in Absalom, Absalom! and F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby. Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March and Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel depict heroes dissatisfied with but undaunted by the limitations of human perceptions. Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio and J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye illustrate the evolution to maturity of George Willard and Holden Caulfield. Mark Twain's conscious presentation of three different and conflicting characters creates an appropriate categorization of types which elucidates thematic patterns in later American novels.

The triangular conflict of perceptions in Mark Twain's novel can be traced in any number of modern American novels, and the character types defined by Tom Sawyer, Jim, and Huck Finn can be applied to many more works than are considered here. All of the works treated in this paper are novels of initiation; their protagonists are. young men encountering life and confronting America. The fact that these characters are widespread throughout modern literature indicates the seriousness with which the American writer is committed to arriving at an understanding of the power and limitations of human perceptions.





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