While industrialization and urbanization increased, realism emerged in post-bellum America. Contrasting the focus on emotions and utopian communities of Romanticism, Realism depicted events based on direct observations of reality and modern struggles; this movement also addressed new themes and issues, including race and slavery. As a Realist, Mark Twain ingrained elements of Realism into The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, portraying how Huck’s actions dissent those of society. Twain satirizes the pillars of society of the 1830s, demonstrating the hypocrisy of Romanticism. In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain ridicules Romanticism as foolish due to its unrealistic concepts; he demonstrates his condemnation of Romantic ideals through the satirical techniques of parody and exaggeration.
Twain utilizes a parody of bleak Romantic poems and poets to demonstrate the ridiculous nature of Romanticism. While Huck admires the Grangerfords’ house, he comes across Emmeline Grangerford’s, the deceased daughter of the Grangerfords, old drawings and poetry. Emmeline’s artwork, which consisted of black dresses and emotional women, makes Huck uneasy. Huck then reads Emmeline’s ode to Stephen Dowling Bots:
And did young Stephen sicken,
And did young Stephen die?
And did the sad hearts thicken
And did the mourners cry?…
They got him out and emptied him;
Alas it was too late;
His spirit was gone for to sport aloft
In the realms of the good and great. (Twain 113–114).
Twain comically emulates Emmeline’s poetry to that of Romantic melancholy poems. Huck recalls, “Buck said she could rattle off poetry like nothing. She didn’t ever have to stop to think. He said she would slap down a line, and if she couldn’t find anything to rhyme with it would just scratch it out and slap down another one, and go ahead” (Twain 114). Twain targets gothic and sentimental poetry and pokes fun at Emmeline’s foolish focus on rhyming rather than focusing on other elements of her awful poem. Furthermore, Huck goes more in-depth with Emmeline’s obsession with death; “Every time a man died…she would be on hand with her “tribute” before he was cold…The neighbors said it was the doctor first, then Emmeline, then the undertaker—the undertaker never got in ahead of Emmeline but once, and then she hung fire on a rhyme for the dead person’s name, which was Whistler. She warn’t the ever the same after that; she never complained, but she kinder pined away and did not live long” (Twain 114). Emmeline writes her tributes and receives the news of death even before the undertaker but once, conveying her extensive obsession with death. Twain pokes fun at Emmeline’s mawkish obsession, which resembles Romantics’ obsession with gothic literature. Because she is “hung fire on a rhyme” while writing a tribute for Whistler, she pines away and dies soon after; her failure to write a tribute leads her to die, an absurd demise that would be seen as unrealistic and fatuous to Realists like Twain.
Twain simultaneously utilizes exaggeration to suggest the impractical nature of Romanticism, specifically associating Romantic ideals with the character of Tom Sawyer. Tom recites his oath in front of the Tom Sawyer’s Gang, a newly formed gang dedicated to robbery and murder. Huck mentions, “Everybody said it was a real beautiful oath, and asked Tom if he got it out of his own head. He said some of it, but the rest was out of pirate books and robber books, and every gang that was high-toned had it” (Twain 18). Tom chooses Romantic, unrealistic “pirate books and robber books” to serve as a model for his gang’s adventures. The gang proceeds to disband, as they only experience subpar adventures. Tom tells his gang that a parcel of Spanish merchants and rich A-rabs are going to camp in Cave Hallow. Though Huck is skeptical, he and the rest of the gang head to Cave Hallow. They are disappointed once they encounter only a Sunday-school picnic. Huck recalls, “But there warn’t no Spaniards and A-rabs, and there warn’t no camels nor no elephants. It warn’t anything but a Sunday-school picnic, and only a primer class at that.. I didn’t see no di’monds, and I told Tom Sawyer so. He said if I warn’t so ignorant, but had read a book called Don Quixote, I would know without asking” (Twain 23). Tom’s persistence of mirroring fictional Romantic novels continues, in this case the adventures of Don Quixote. Tom ironically mentions that Huck is “ignorant” although in Twain’s eyes, Tom is the character who lacks common knowledge due to his obsession with make-believe ideas. Tom’s absurd means of adventure continue when Huck and Tom devise plans to save Jim from the Phelps’ farm. Huck suggests a practical method of rescuing Jim, but Tom harshly criticizes Huck and reveals his own plan; “Well, if that ain’t just like you, Huck Finn. You can get up the infant-schooliest ways of going at a thing. Why, hain’t you ever read any books at all?—Baron Trenck, nor Casanova…nor none of them heroes?..No; the way all the best authorities does is to saw the bed-leg in two, and leave it just so, and swallow the sawdust” (Twain 250). Rather than choosing a practical method of saving Jim, Tom bases his strenuous plan of saving Jim on the adventures of his “authorities”—the heroes of Romantic novels. Through Tom’s meaningless schemes, Twain conveys that a Realist, practical approach is heavily beneficial compared to a Romantic, moronic mindset.
In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain ridicules Romanticism as foolish due to its idealistic concepts. Although disliked by 19th century Realists, 21st century idols embrace Romantic ideals; many artists and musicians express and glorify individualism in their works. Though social media influencers promote for people to be more individualistic, social media inadvertently leads to conformity. People scared of judgment on social media often cover their uniqueness in attempt to display themselves in the best light possible, representing themselves inaccurately. Consequently, pressure to conform appears more and more on social media platforms, contrasting the advocated individualistic ideals.