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Rejection in Novels

In: English and Literature

Submitted By abbieelliott
Words 911
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Abbie Elliott
Compare how Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger present the theme of rejection in extracts from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye.
The extracts I have chosen see the central protagonists both rejecting society. In the extract from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck is discussing how Widow Douglas is trying to civilize him through educating him and dressing him in smart and respectable clothing. Huck rejects ‘civilized life’ and fears the rules and conformities of society. Likewise, in the extract from The Catcher in the Rye, Holden has been expelled from Pencey and gets the train to New York, where attempts to flirt with one of his classmate’s mothers. Here Holden also rejects the expected social norms. This is because he has been treated like a dissident and a disappointment for most of his life, but he functions under the attitude that the problem lies within the ‘phony’ society and their expectations of him. Rejection is an occurrence in both novels, however, the difference being Huck was brought up with no education, no understanding of social standards and no rules imposed on him. Now he has been forced into a civilized life which he dreads. On the other hand, Holden has been educated and disciplined from a young age and he appears to be well behaved. However, later on in the novel we discover he pretends to be someone he not and very often breaks social norms.
Both writers present the theme of rejection by aiming to portray a young man’s ‘journey’ through growing up. Both protagonists reject the expectations placed on them by society; however they do not share similar experiences and social backgrounds. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, set in roughly 1835, the slave era of 19th Century America, author Twain uses the character of Huck to indulge in the feelings of slavery he has himself. By mocking and rejecting the ideas of society, the main premise in Huckleberry Finn is for Huck to do the thing he believes is right (releasing and helping the slave) even though society is very much against it. Contrastingly, Salinger’s 20th century novel was published at a time when the expanding American industrial economy made the ‘nation prosperous and entrenched social rules served as a code of conformity for the younger generation.’ Holden’s parents moved him from prep school to prep school in the hope he would conform to the social exception society had on him.
Although both of the writers share different techniques to present rejection throughout the novels, one approach they do share is the use of lies told by the protagonists. Both characters pretend to be someone else, someone who accepts the social standards of society. Holden recreates himself as Rudolf Schmidt, a janitor of the dorm at Pencey. Holden is rejecting the morals and importance of social norms of society purely for his own entertainment and pleasure. Similarly, Huck poses as Sarah Williams. In Huck’s cases, he doesn’t have control over his lies and is telling them to keep his and Jim’s freedom in tack. There is a difference between their motives; however both are taking roles of people completely opposite to them, who accept the rules and conformities of their society to blend in. In some respect, Holden is a very lonely teenager, as he does not believe in accepting the expectations placed on him, he finds it hard to connect with people his age, who are following what is considered ‘socially normal.’ By taking on the role of someone who does fit in and has a place in society, he feels connected to people around him and less lonely.
In the extract from Huckleberry Finn, Twain uses a very conversational, colloquial approach towards rejection. The reader starts to acknowledge Huck’s breaking of social norms when it becomes known that Huck smokes. ‘Pretty soon I wanted to smoke, and asked the Widow to let me. But she wouldn’t.’ Huck then explains that he isn't allowed because it isn't socially acceptable and that society ‘gets down on a thing when they don't know nothing about it’. This shows Huck to be very immature; however he thinks he is older than what he actually is. Breaking the social norms by smoking at such a young age is an approach both novels use to show the rejection of society. Holden also smokes. He is doing the opposite of what is expected of them: he smokes, swears, and gets expelled from school just to reject civilized societies expectations of him.

In conclusion, I chose these extracts as I believe that they both portray the theme of rejection in different ways, mainly how Twain describes how a young boy in the 1830s lied about his identity as was required to save his life, yet still rejecting the standards and rules of the society he lived in. This is opposed to Salinger’s description of an older boy in the post-World War 1950s who lives in a society that brimming with social rules. He is rejecting the morals and the importance of social norms within society for no other reason than his own personal pleasure; in spite of him knowing that it was morally wrong and mentions to the reader of his guilt. I found that the structure of both extracts and the crescendo of their lies represent and reflect the rejection of themselves and others in their own individual society.

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