The Red Badge of Courage and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Literature changes as modern life continues to evolve and develop. As with evolution of animals, literature evolves when the need for it to do so arises. This need stemmed from the calamities that colonists faced during the 19th and 20th century including war and starvation. This necessity resulted in the development of Realism, which begun during the start of the Civil War and ended around the 1910’s.
This was then followed by the Naturalism movement, which occurred from the 1880’s to the 1940’s. The Red Badge of Courage and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn both respectively serve as paragons of the Naturalism and Realism literary movements. Due to their overlapping time frames, the movements have many congruences between them. However, through the use of imagery and diction both authors exhibit the specific nuances that characterize the movements and distinguish them from one another. In the novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain’s use of diction allows for the development of individual characters.
The author often refers to each character specifically by name regardless of their importance to storyline. At the beginning of the novel, Twain writes about Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer meeting up with a group of boys including two named “Jo Harper and Ben Rodgers”(Twain 25). Jo Harper and Ben Rodgers have little importance to the events that occur later in the book; but by choosing to create peculiar and memorable names for the many side characters of the story, Twain suggests the importance to distinguish each individual character throughout the novel. Doing this allows Twain to bring readers closer to the characters as they learn more about them. This is a major attribute of the Realism movement and is seen frequently in Twain’s work.
The idea of glorifying the individual is also exhibited in Twain’s rhetoric through his use of dialects. The characters each have dialects specific to their education and background. The language used in the dialects creates unique rhythm that is characteristic of the individual. This is prevalent especially in his dialects for the characters Jim and Huckleberry Finn. Huckleberry’s accent is saturated in colloquialisms and words are often spelled phonetically; for example, at one point Huckleberry says “But it warn’t no time to be sentimentering” (Twain 144). On the other hand, Jim’s accent is marked by Twain’s use of concatenated and truncated words.
This suggests Jim’s lack of education and contributes to the growth of Jim as a vital character in the novel. The words in Huckleberry’s dialect are still recognizable and easy to read in contrast to Jim’s thick, highly punctuated accent. The use of dialects assisted in establishing The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn by emphasizing the individual characters, and exhibiting the “local color” of the Mississippi during the 1800’s, thus making it a prime example of the Realism movement. In contrast, in The Red Badge of Courage the author, Stephen Crane, utilized diction in order to focus on people as a whole rather than one individual. Emphasizing how small one person is compared to the massivity of mankind is a key feature in the Naturalism movement.
Crane does this by referring to characters with very nonspecifically. This is best displayed in how Crane refers to the main character as “the Youth”(Crane 12). This suggests that Henry is symbolic of the entire age group of juvenile men who signed up to fight in the Civil War. He also does not provide specific names for the other soldiers, instead he describes them as “the tall soldier” and “the loud soldier” (Crane 21). While Realism focuses on the individual, Naturalism focuses on the big picture of people as a whole. This is one of the significant nuances that differentiates the Realism and Naturalism movements.
Nevertheless, the two novels as well as the two movements share are many similar components as well, of which is seen in the rhetoric used by Crane and Twain. In both novels, the point of view of the stories are set as in the eyes of typical, adolescent boys. Outside these movements it was common for authors to concentrate on extraordinary and heroic characters. In both movements, writers sought to describe the ordinary people and the everyday situations they dealt with. In The Red Badge of Courage, Henry was a normal, young boy who decided to join the war efforts seeking adventure and to fulfill his duty.
The youth soon finds war as more of a waiting game, exposing the reality of war. Instead of only depicting the high speed action of battles, Crane mostly describes the long weeks where nothing would happen and Henry was left with only his thoughts. In addition, it was common for war novels to take place in the point of view of renowned generals and famous warriors; however, Crane allowed his main character to be able to relate to the American, thus making readers to have a closer, more personal connection with Henry. Mark Twain also accomplished this by making his character a restless commoner living in Mississippi. He was not a heroic character like protagonists often are; he did what he pleased whether it was right or not. This depicted the realistic details of actual life, which is a large aspect of both movements.
The overlapping time periods of Realism and Naturalism contribute to the many congruent components of the two; however, they have several very distinct features exhibited in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Red Badge of Courage. This is established through the authors’ choices including names, characters, point of view, and plot, through the use of diction and imagery. The people of this time period needed literature to not only entertain them, but help them deal with the cruel reality of the world without them, and these two movements accomplished just that. Works Cited Crane, Stephen, and Henry Binder. The Red Badge of Courage: An Episode of the American Civil War. New York: Norton, 1982.
Print. Twain, Mark, and E. W. Kemble. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, 1986.