Ideas of National Culture and the Self (from "Huckleberry Finn")
Modern literature has been keen to emphasise national identity, and to embody the aspirations, idiosyncrasies and typologies of the nation in question. Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" is an American novel which emphasises exactly this, and gives many compelling insights into the national character of America, highlighting the significance of land and religion, and the intrinsic freedom and liberty which was central to America's creation.
It can be said that Huckleberry Finn presents the idea of free expression, with his personal morals and values lying at the center of his character. Central to the American character is the virtue of morality, amiability and honesty, and Finn mirrors this cultural ethos early on in the novel by establishing his own code of honesty, which he uses to help him through any challenging circumstances and events. If we would like to understand the social order reflected in the novel, then it is important to appreciate the differences between political and social elements, which give a focal point for personal identity.
The influence of religion upon society is complicated as it influences culture in many ways, including our behaviour in a certain social circumstance, socialization, and individuality and outlook on life. The influence of religion is high in America, and is a very important part of many American lives which brings forth moral understanding and tradition to American society.
It is religion that holds the construct for the moral codes and values for many Americans, not just in a personal way but for social aspects as well. It can be argued that this particular way of thinking provides resolve and courage to those who identify themselves with the nation at large (Huntington, 2004). In Huckleberry Finn, this way of thinking is mirrored by Finn's general outlook on life, and his philosophical groundings. For example, Finn's loving and forgiving nature perfectly exemplifies the effect of religious institutions which effect all people in the nation.
In terms of national identity, this concept is presented in the positions of the character in the novel. Twain presents many contrasting characters in the novel, from good and evil to loving and hating, sure and capricious, and all these different personalities are the perfect analysis of personal and national identity in America. From the personal point of view national identity is the embodiment of personal liberty, and from the social point of view it is group democracy which provides the balancing force, allowing people to make their own choices, such as where to live, who to meet, where to travel, where to find pleasure - in essence, where to find the American dream. What binds all these viewpoints together are the firm religious and moral principles which make up Finn's character.
Another important topic is that of racial identity and land. We know that both of these things are important in the American culture, and the liberty and equality which the nation strives for is central to the thought processes of the protagonist, even when conflicts arise. For example, Finn aides Jim to escape from his past in slavery in spite of the apparent punishment of God. It is not only the cultural influence of religion under question here, but the strong historical influence which Twain is obviously keen to highlight.
Overall, the American philosophy is based on empathy and thoughtfulness, which projects nationally and beyond, and the national culture is related to the proclaimed and well known 'liberty', while for the individual it is all about equal rights, equal opportunities, and freedom from discrimination. And the changes that occur in the novel highlight the emergence of individualism as a response to the cultural and political changes that occur.
Huntington, S. P. Who Are We : The Challenges to America's National Identity. Simon & Schuster. 2004.
Marl Twain. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. in The Norton Anthology of American Literature, ed. N. Baym. Volume C. W. W. Norton & Company; 6th edn, Shorter Version. 2002.