The Comparison of Emma, Huckleberry Finn, and My Name is Asher Lev: Narrative strategies, The Allegory of Journey and the Theme of Having Fathers as Poor Role Models
Protagonist come in all forms but if we look deep beneath what is taken for granted, similarities can be found between them. For example, in Emma, written by Jane Austen, we find a young woman of a privileged life with nothing but time on her hands. She spends her days with romantic fantasies, intellectual vanity, and thinks she has the ability to play matchmaker with her friends. The protagonist in Huckleberry Finn, written by Mark Twain, is a young boy who is poor and who has grown up rough without developing skills to behave in society. He struggles with the idea of becoming civilized and struggles with the idea of slavery.
Then there is the novel My Name is Asher Lev, written by Chaim Potok. Asher Lev is the protagonist in this story about a young boy growing up in a Jewish Community dependent on his parents, religious beliefs, the community and the struggle for his passion of art. In these three books, the protagonists appear to be completely different yet there are similarities. In all three, the narrative strategies are different but end up with the same result.
Each one of the protagonist have been brought up living different lifestyles, but they all have father figures that hinder them in some way and delay the process. Also, the journey that each character takes is not just physical but a combination of psychological, physical and the transference of ideas. Even though there are all these differences, they all acquire growth and maturity as a final result. Comparing the three novels shows how the stories can be written in different eras by distinct writers with completely diverse writing styles and still have a common ground because of literary elements such as narrative strategies, symbols, and themes to help develop the readers’ perception of the protagonists’ growth.
The perception of the protagonists’ growth can be a difficult task to accomplish but through the narrative strategies an author uses it can simplify a complex area for the reader. In Emma, the protagonist experiences growth as she plays a number of roles, the main one being matchmaker. Emma refuses to be romantically involved because of her strong attachment to her father so she directs her energy to others around her. Her intentions to find Harriet a husband backfires several times.
She encounters one unfortunate event after another until she is reprimanded by Mr. Knightley over a comment she has made to one of the families dear friends. She becomes aware how silly and rude she has been. She asks Mr. Knightley for his help in changing her habits. Mr. Knightley sees the change in Emma and realizes he wants to marry her. The book ends happily with her discovery of her own need for love and companionship and accepts.
Austen uses an omniscient narrator in conjunction with dialogue to trace the growth of her protagonist. In the beginning, the narrator describes Emma as “handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition” and while this seems to be a very general observation, she further comments “The real evils indeed of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well or herself” (Austin, 1814, 7).
It is because of this type of strategies that the narrator is able to help the reader see the change from a spoiled and selfish child to a happily married woman who has finally realized how silly and rude she was. The revelation stated by the narrator, “She saw it all with a clearness which had never blessed her before. How improperly had she been acting by Harriet! How inconsiderate, how indelicate, how irrational, how unfeeling, had been her conduct!” (Austen, 1814, 268). Because of Emma having limited dialogue of her thoughts, it helps the reader when the narrator explains her emotions to show growth.
In the next novel Huckleberry Finn, the growth of the protagonist, is more difficult to find. In the beginning of Huckleberry Finn, Huck introduces himself by saying, “The widow she cried over me, and called me a poor lost lamb, and she called me a lot of other names too, but she never meant no harm by it. She put me in them new clothes again, and I couldn’t do nothing but sweat and sweat, and feel all cramped up” (Twain, 1884, 2). Huck is a young boy that has lived with an abusive father and not been taught how he must act in society.
He is put in the Widow’s care but his father comes back to reclaim his rights in order to get his hands on money Huck was given. He escapes from his father, discovers a runaway slave by the name of Jim, and the two set out down the Mississippi River. During this time, he struggles with the idea of becoming civilized and doing the right thing about harboring a runaway slave. Huck encounters several different characters along the way.
These acquaintances help Huck come to the conclusion that their actions helps justify his reasoning in not to fall into the trap of becoming civilized again. By the end, Huck’s adventures has helped him mature enough that he realizes it by saying, “But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before” (Twain, 1884, 360) He also sees that helping Jim is the right thing to do and that it is ok to tell small lies to protect his friend because white society’s understanding of slavery wasn’t just. Huck has grown into maturity by understanding what his beliefs and passions are.
The narrative technique is about the same throughout the book. To find Huck’s growth we must look at the plot. He wants to be free to do as he pleases and live off the land rather than conform to society’s rules. The growth of Huck hides in the background behind the narrator and is played out all the way through the novel by the informal speech the author has chosen to use. This in itself makes it difficult to identify the growth at the end.
In the third novel, My Name is Asher Lev, the protagonist starts out as a boy with two developing struggles he must recon with. He is brought up in a Jewish community where strong emphasis is on religion, community and the dependence on his parents. As he grows, Asher discovers a talent for art. Since this is not part of the community, he is torn. He is however allowed to continue to develop his talents and even travels abroad. During this time away from his parents he reflects on the importance the community has been in his upbringing and transfers his feelings to his paintings.
This is a time of growth and maturity for him. At one point, his mother struggles with anguish because of his painting and Asher express it by painting a work of art about his feelings about his mother. He gets accepted for an art show and struggles with whether to display the painting and show the world how great an artist he has become and risk hurting his family or not show the painting and spare his parents feelings.
In the end he chooses his drive to create art over family. This makes his parents and the community to turn their backs on him and he is asked to leave the community. He is unsure that he is ready to leave, but he does however have a greater sense of the man he has become.
The narrative style in this novel goes from childhood thoughts to mature observations. The words that are chosen by the young Asher and the ones that are spoken by the young man Asher shows the flow of maturity from beginning to end. For instance, in the beginning the young man introduces himself in this manner, “My name is Asher Lev, the Asher Lev, about whom you have read in newspapers and magazines, about whom you talk so much about at your dinner affairs and cocktail parties, the notorious and legendary Lev of the Brooklyn Crucifixion” (Potok, 1972, 3).
As he is talking, he starts to go back in time when he was a little boy and his choices of words are more simple with short sentences. This happens when he states, “I have no recollection of when I began to use that gift. But I can remember at the age of four, holding my pencil in the first firm grip of a child” (Potok, 1972, 5). The narration continues in a child like manner through most of the book. The reader is then introduced back to the grown up man who first started the book. This is identified when he talks about his forefathers by asking, “Had a dream-haunted Jew spent the rest of his life sculpting form out of the horror of his private night?” (Potok, 1972, 327). The reader can identify the mature state Asher has developed into because of his language.
The narrative strategies in each one of these novels are very different, but as we can see they play an important part in discovering the growth of each protagonist. Determining the growth can take on a variety of forms. In Emma the process was recognized at the end when she realized how wrong she had been. Sometimes it just flows with the text as in My Name is Asher Lev. And sometimes one must look deeper to get the information out as in Huckleberry Finn.
There is a common “theme” among the three novels; each protagonist has a father in their life that is a poor role model. In Emma, Emma’s mother passed away when she was very small and after her sister married she became the mistress of the house and her caretaker of her father. Mr. Woodhouse has given Emma a life of luxury and catered to her every whim. Mr. Woodhouse is somewhat of a hypochondriac and believes he will become ill from the least little thing and is also fearful for his friends’ health as well. In chapter 3 the Woodhouse family is having friends over to eat and Mr. Woodhouse states, “and while his hospitality would have welcomed his visitors to every thing, his care for their health made him grieve that they would eat” (Austen, 1814).
By the end of the book we can see that his overprotection of Emma almost made it impossible for her to marry Mr. Knightley. This would have been the end if it hadn’t been for Mr. Woodhouses’ fearfulness of becoming robed or harmed in his own house. Only then did he give in to their marriage. The two were to be married and live in the Woodhouse home. Because of his actions towards Emma, she has not fully developed into a reasonable thinking woman. She is full of fantasies and has an air about her that she shouldn’t have. If Mr. Knightley were not there to help guide Emma on decisions that she had made, it may have taken her longer to develop her thinking.
In the novel Huckleberry Finn, Huck’s father was one of the worst fathers one could have. He was a drunk, abusive, stupid man. In chapter 3 Huck talks about his father and the way he treated him by saying, “He used to always whale me when he was sober and could get his hands on me” (Twain, 1884). His father took pride in being ignorant and had raised Huck in the same way he had been. He felt his way of life was enough to get by and he didn’t need to read or write. On one of his rants in chapter 5, he tells Huck, “"Well, I'll learn her how to meddle. And looky here--you drop that school, you hear? I'll learn people to bring up a boy to put on airs over his own father and let on to be better'n what HE is. You lemme catch you fooling around that school again, you hear? Your mother couldn't read, and she couldn't write, nuther, before she died. None of
the family couldn't before THEY died. I can't; and here you're a-swelling yourself up like this. I ain't the man to stand it--you hear? (Twain, 1884). With a father behaving in this manner, it would be hard for a child to overcome this type of lifestyle and behavior. If it wasn’t for the other adults that had come into Huck’s life, he may not have had the chance to think about and come to a conclusion about Jim and slavery. Having this type of role model can only hold a person back and not let them move forward in a normal natural way.
Asher’s father in My Name is Asher Lev was different than Huck’s. He loved his son, but was more worried with the rules of the community to support him. He spent most of his time traveling doing the Rebbe’s bidding and didn’t have much time for his wife and son. He did this because his father had done it for the Rebbe’s father and it was an honor.
He felt art was a waste of time and discouraged Asher from painting. He would not even allow him to paint in the house. During a conversation with Jacob Kahn about his father in chapter 11, Kahn tells Asher his father thinks he is wasting his life away and thinks he has betrayed him (Potok, 1972). When Asher’s art shows become popular the critics begin to take notice. After a showing and great reviews in chapter 12, his father comes to him and says “I’m glad the critics like what you do, Asher. I’m glad you didn’t shame us” (Potok, 1972).
In conclusion the elements of writing are the tools that unit authors together. It doesn’t matter the era or the scenario they choose to use in their stories because in some form or another they all use these elements. In the above novels we saw how the narrator strategies were all different, but in the end each protagonist achieved the same goal of maturity.
Each of our protagonists went on their own journey to reach maturity, but in different forms such as psychological, physical, and transference. Also, in each of the stories the father figures were poor role models for the protagonist. The fathers ranged in faults such as a hypochondriac that relied heavily on his daughter, a father that was so illiterate he didn’t want his son to become better than himself, and a father that put such importance on his religious beliefs and leader that he chose those over the happiness of his son. All three of these novels were written in different styles, eras, and scenes but can be compared by their content because of the elements of writing.