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The Embodiment Of American National Identity In Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn And Carson Mccullers’ The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter

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General Background

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel by Mark Twain published in the United Kingdom in December 1884 and then it was published in the United States in February 1885. It is considered as one of the greatest American novels. The narrator of this story is “Huck” Finn who is also the narrator of the sequel The Adventure of Tom Sawyer. As Harold Bloom in his introduction to his book Bloom’s Guide firstly notes “For a country obsessed with the image of freedom, Huck Finn is an inevitable hero, since he incarnates the genius of American solitude,” (7) or later in edited version of his book he declares that “[t]he book tells a story which most Americans need to believe is a true representation of the way things were, are, and yet might be.” (2) What made this book so popular, one reason among those, might be that it is among the first books written in vernacular English.

Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Faulkner all see Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as their American starting point. Fitzgerald said that Huck’s “eyes were the first eyes that ever looked at us objectively that were not eyes from overseas.” Another novel which will be studied is The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, published in 1940, a novel by the American author Carson McCullers. The novel is about John Singer, a deaf man, and the people he meets in a mill town in the US state of Georgia.

Reading these two novels gives a sense of how America as a nation might be. But the word “nation” is really hard to define. Benedict Anderson (2006), whose theories and ideas we are going to undertake as the basis of our study, in his book Imagined Communities, declares that “[n]ation, nationality, nationalism — all have proved notoriously difficult to define, let alone to analyse.” (3) He continues: “It is not only the world that has changed its face over the past twelve years. The study of nationalism too has been startlingly transformed – in method, scale, sophistication, and sheer quantity.”

Based on Anderson’s theory of imagined communities, there are many reasons for nationalism one is language, the substitution of particular script languages with vernacular literacy, second, the overthrown of rules made by “divine right and hereditary monarchy” and the emergence of printing press capitalism. Start of Industrial Revolution made all of these easier.

Anderson comes to three paradoxes: “The objective modernity of nations to the historians’ eyes vs. their subjective antiquity in the eyes of nationalists. (2) The formal universality of nationality as a socio-cultural concept (3) the ‘political’ power of such nationalisms vs. their philosophical poverty and even incoherence.”

Statement of the Problem

The reason why we picked up these two novels as examples is that we are willing to look for the connection between the nation and the novels, and the elements which embodies American national identity are going to be critically investigated and found.

To come to this understanding of what it means to be American, you may read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Many critics such as Henry James and others called it a realistic novel which is the truest in its nature. It is not simply the adventures of the boy Huck:

Anybody who has tried to hone a sense of American history can migrate into Huck’s world with special ease because of both the “frontier thesis” and the career of racism. Heightened for Twainians by DeVoto, the vision of the West as a haven of democracy, individualism, and pioneer ingenuity lives on. For a few romantics, escape to somewhere, as they take Huck to be proposing, is still possible. (Bloom, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 2007:94)

In The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter we are provided with many distinct characters that Bloom describes as “…[t]heir lives are shot through with frustration and discouragement and the intense privacy of their inner lives gives the reader the impression that they are isolated, lonely beings. However, the frustrations they experience are most often a product of their very passionate attempts to follow their desires or convictions.” (117)

Both of these novels bring back to our memory the famous motto of Americans, the land of freedom and the land of opportunity for individuals. It is assumed that these novels are among those which portray national identity


Now this may come into our mind that what makes these novels embody American national identity? How come other American novels do not make us feel such an identity? We assume that there are some characteristics related to their text and some common elements they contain and we tend to find and gather them. Hemingway in Green Hill of Africa pronounced that “[a]ll modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn”

Nationalism is hard to define that even Marxists and Liberalists historiographers had failed to do so. As Hugh Seton-Watson observes: “Thus I am driven to the conclusion that no ‘scientific definition’ of the nation can be devised; yet the phenomenon has existed and exists.” (5) Tom Nairn, author of The Break-up of Britain frankly remarks: “The theory of nationalism represents Marxism’s great historical failure.” (94) That is why Benedick Anderson believes that “…unlike most other isms, nationalism has never produced its own grand thinkers: no Hobbeses, Tocquevilles, Marxes, or Webers. This ’emptiness’ easily gives rise, among cosmopolitan and polylingual intellectuals, to a certain condescension.” (5)

We cannot neglect the influence of the Nationalism on the modern world. What made America as the way it is today might be the impact of the novels written on the 18th and 19th century after the civil war on the collective minds. Ernest Gellner on Thought and Change defines nationalism: “Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness: it invents nations where they do not exist.” (169) Not just Americans, but we are hypostasizing that American national identities embodied in western text might have great impacts worldwide. Not to mention English language as internationally selected to be spoken.

As Ernest Geller said Nationalism comes to be making nations, we may come across texts in future which has impacts on making nations or starts a revolution. It is essential to know those elements in the text.

Literature Review

Thomas Brook in his article named Languages and Identity in the ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn “Huck tries to find his own way through a world of socially imposed lies”. In “combating society’s hypocrisy” and lies, Huck chooses to tell another lie in society which “language cannot be trusted,” and “king and duke are frauds.” He also comments on the slavery of the character Jim and Huck’s and Tom’s effort to make him free: “From Twain’s point of view society finds itself in the same dilemma as Tom. Society, like Tom, is forced to invent all of the difficulties because the original situation is so simple. The society Twain grew up in had produced elaborate codes of conduct, pages of laws, regulations, court decisions and proclamations, and in the end had their own shootout to assure slaves, like Jim, a freedom they were born with.” (9)

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Finally, he claims that the identity of Huck is dependent upon language.

Others such as Forrest G. Robinson (1982) in The Silences in Huckleberry Finn, Wayne Fields (1990) in When the Fences Are Down; Language and Order in ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Huckleberry Finn’, A. E. Dyson (1961) in Huckleberry Finn and the Whole Truth and many others have also worked on silence, language, and truth in Huckleberry Finn.

Lisa Cohen Minnick (2001) in Jim’s language and the issue of race in Huckleberry Finn by paying attention to phonological and grammatical features of Jim’s way of talking to find out if the features of his speech match African-American Vernacular English by using LinguaLinks software program.

Smith (1995) disserts that the way Twain portrays Jim shows the author as “an antiracist writer oriented toward the [progressive] tradition” (1995: 123), who also has “commonplace racist attitude.” (1995: 122)

Harold Beaver (1974) in Run, Nigger, Run brings the discussion toward the narrativity of Huckleberry Finn and study of colonialism in the novel: Especially since the ‘ nigger’ in that fiction is usually regarded as incapable of taking decisive action, a tool of the white man’s machinations, a passive focus for others rather than the controlling factor of his own escape. The widely held view is this: Jim remains the sentimental stereotype, an Uncle Tom, the good drifting nigger with a heart, but no brains, no scheming imagination, no education even but peasant clowning and foolish superstitions a man of feeling who is the natural victim. (339)

A.Robert Lee in Getting Uncivilised: Huckleberry Finn as Moral Experience calls The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a black comedy that “wholly alerts to the different inclinations of humankind towards illusion, the necessary or self-persuading lie.” (30)

David E.E. Sloane (1988) on the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: American Comic Vision discusses about the development of a “Raft Ethic”, importance of “raft” in Twain’s work and his optimism by using it to get away from the society: They establish the philosophy that endows the power of the river with the undertow of humanity… The raft world allows for a finer ethic, formed in the natural background of “the big river,” which Huck and Jim develop for themselves as they discuss pragmatism, kings, and right treatment versus trash-like treatment of friends.

He also discusses about the “comfort” that Jim and Huck have on the raft and borrowing which shows their freedom from the authorities.

Michael Egan (1977) brought up the discussion about Huck’s Language Conventions and Huck’s extraordinary English grammatical and vocabulary transformation. At first it might sound compelling but then “sound perfectly natural and even logical.” He also refers to the language of poor that displays poverty in the South: “The humor, the vividness and the very Americanness of this moment are inseparable from Huck’s capacity to make a past-tense verb out of ‘suspicion’ and to invent the outrageous simile that hinges on the non-existent participle, ‘googling’. Its effectiveness, however, is undeniable.”

He believed that Twain’s writing was not prose but a mere recording of life.

Victor A. Doyno (1991) talks about the dominance of Christianity and morality in some chapters, for instance: “The widow attempts to indoctrinate Huck in the Judeo-Christian tradition by reading from the Bible the story of “Moses and the Bulrushers.”

Many critics have given declarations about human relationships and their alienation in the novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Among them Oliver Evans remarks “what conceives to be the truth about human nature is a melancholy truth: each man is surrounded by a ‘zone of loneliness,’ serving a life sentence of solitary confinement” (Clark 126) Julian Symons notices the poetic vision of McCullers and believes that it makes this common loneliness into something strange” (Clark 22)

Other critics such as Ihab H. Hassan (1960) emphasizes on the social issues such as racism and capitalism in her novel: Despite its disconsolate title, the novel finds a way of acknowledging the social realities of its time. Its events hark back to the economic distress of the thirties and reverberate with the distant echoes of Nazi tyranny, and its spirit shudders with the “strangled South.” (315)

Laurie Champion claims the underlying portrayal of American Negro in the novel: McCullers provides a vivid portrait of the plight of the American Negro living in the South during the thirties, but in the end this theme underlies her more significant theme: all individuals are lonely hunters? blacks, whites, children adolescents, freaks, and the ‘ordinary.’

Many other critics and scholars have worked on these two novels around the similar subjects and themes. They have been working on many different critical aspects of these novels, but none of them has paid attention to the distinct American national identities which is embodied in the text in details. The details which make these novels differ from other ones.


In this thesis, we are aiming to detect the embodiment of American national identity on different levels and the imagined community in the text based on the theories of Benedict Anderson (1983) in Imagined Communities. Our Method for doing so is to delve into the texts of the two novels for gathering enough information.

Works Cited

  1. Anderson, B. (1983). Imagined Communities. Verso.
  2. Beaver, H. (1974). Run, Nigger, Run: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a Fugitive Slave Narrative. Journal of American Stidies, 8(03), 339-361. doi:10.1017/S0021875800015929
  3. Bloom, H. (2005). Bloom’s Guides: Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Chelsea House Publishers.
  4. Bloom, H. (2007). Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Updated Edition). NY: Infobase Publishing.
  5. Brook, T. (1982). Languages and Identity in the ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’. Mark Twain Journal, 7-10.
  6. Clark, B. L. (1996). Critical Essays on Carson MacCullers. NY: Hall.
  7. Doyno, V. A. (1991). Writing ‘Huck Finn’: Mark Twain’s Creative Process. 136-9.
  8. Egan, M. (1977). Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn”: Race, Class and Society. London: Chatto & Windus Ltd. for Sussex University Press.
  9. Evans, O. (1965). Carson McCullers: Her Life and Work. Londen: Peter Owen.
  10. Hassan, I. H. (1959-1960). CARSON McCULLERS: The Alchemy of Love and Aesthetics of Pain. Modern Fiction Studies, 311-326.
  11. Hemingway, E. (1935). Green Hills of Africa. NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
  12. Lee, A. R. (1984). Getting Uncivilised. Atlantis, 6(1/2), 29-43.
  13. Minnick, L. C. (2001). Jim’s language and the issue of race in huckleberry FInn.
  14. Narin, T. (1977). The Break-up of Britain. Australia.
  15. Seton-Watson, H. (1977). Nation and States.
  16. Sloane, D. E. (1988). Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: American Comic Vision. NY: Twayne Publishers.
  17. Smith, D. (1995). Black Critics and Mark Twain. 116-28.
  18. Symons, J. (n.d.). The Lonely Heart. In Clark, Critical Essays on Carson McCullers (pp. 22-25).

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The Embodiment Of American National Identity In Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn And Carson Mccullers’ The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. (2021, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 30, 2023, from
“The Embodiment Of American National Identity In Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn And Carson Mccullers’ The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2021,
The Embodiment Of American National Identity In Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn And Carson Mccullers’ The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 Mar. 2023].
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