Thursday, November 18, 2004

Fiedler Chapter XIII.
“The Power of Blackness: Faustian Man and the Cult of Violence.”

Fiedler says here that Poe can never “transform the gothic into the tragic” because “he lacks that ultimate ‘power of blackness’” that comes from “its appeal to that Calvinistic sense of Innate Depravity and Original Sin” (433)

American writing had always had that spiritual concern but here in the nineteenth century it went from the “bland cosmic optimism” of the writing that denied “cosmic depravity” (like Calvinism) and went to a “bloodless sort of asceticism” (434). This came together in Transcendentalism, which influenced prose and poetry in writers like Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman as well as Hawthorne and Melville, who were called Transcendentalists in error (435).

Melville and Hawthorne believed that “it is the function of art not to console or sustain, much less to entertain, but to disturb by telling a truth which is always unwelcome” (436). In addition, these authors often used Faustian characters who had to “barter away” their souls (436).

Huck Finn is a Faust boy character. The novel about him is “essentially a book about a marginal American type, who only wants to stay alive; but who does not find this very easy to do, being assailed on the one side by forces of benevolence, which insist that he ask for more” (462). So his journey gives the author a chance to evaluate the whole culture: “religion, the social order, other men” (462). Interestingly, “Huck lives on a sub-moral level,” and his being removed, presumably, gives him room to make social commentary. But Huck isn’t really “a devil or even a savage.” He’s “only a semi-barbarian” because he grew up “on the edge of civilization” (463).

Morality for Huck is pointless. At times, he seems as though he wants to do the “right thing,” but most of the other times, he realizes that doing so is too hard. When, after many mistakes, he is disappointed, Huck muses, “what’s the use of you learning to do right when it’s troublesome to do right and ain’t no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same? … So I reckoned I wouldn’t bother no more about it, but after this always do whichever comes handiest at the time” (464).

The morals he applies to the issue of slavery are confused. He does steal Jim from slavery, but it is not for the reasons we might think. As Fiedler explains it, “it never enters his head for a moment that protecting Jim against recapture is anything but wrong; for he has no abolitionist ideas and questions the justice of slavery no more than did Aristotle” (464). With a comparison tot Aristotle, Fiedler makes it clear that Huck is in good company.

Huck is saving Jim for his own enjoyment. Fiedler points that out demonstrating that when Aunt Sally asks him about the steamboat accident, Huck says no one was killed except “a nigger,” which Fiedler says is “with no intended irony” (464). The author may intend there to be irony—in other words, Twain may intend for the audience to see the rueful irony behind Huck’s saving Jim, but not caring a think about abolition, but Huck isn’t intended to have any lofty ideas. This explanation actually works for O’Connor. I understood that always about her on some level, but I never could articulate it.

Anyway, Fiedler explains it this way, that Huck loves Jim “quite literally as he loves himself,” so when he is willing to go to hell for him, it is because Huck himself is willing to go to hell. He just doesn’t care (464).

So Huck becomes a Faustian character as “an uncommitted idler” or as evidentiary of fwhat one of the early reviewers of the book called “the ruffianism that is one result of the independence of Americans” (466).

Another of Twain’s Faustian “duplicitous device[s]” is that he makes the otherwise shiftless character of Huck also have a “virtuous heart” (466). Fiedler’s relates this to the idea of the noble savage in literature popularized by Cooper, about the Indians of course (466). So though he may seem like a child gone astray, he never truly delivers on being a bad kid. The only time he actually uses a gun is against his father, who actually has earned it—and even then, he only makes a threat. Fiedler says that instead of fighting, Huck “runs, hides, equivocates, dodges, and, when he can do nothing else, suffers.” In fact, says Fiedler, “he is actually timid to the point of burlesque” (466). His greatest problem, and an often used word, is “loneliness” (467).

Huck’s relationship with women is twisted. Fiedler says, “The world of mothers […] believes not only in Providence and cleanliness and affection, but in slavery, too. Yet it is the best of all conceivable worlds to Mark Twain” (468). So it seems as though he has to give up what he wants for his mother. But girls are also troubling to him. There is no such thing as bad girls to him; only the good ones exist, and to marry them “means an initiation into piety and conformity” (468).

Fiedler goes on here to talk about Pudd’nhead Wilson, who he says is also a Faustian character, but the comic nature of the character allows him to bring up social commentary without angering his audience (469). He then goes on to say that the terrible dichotomy here is that the author seems to want two things at once—to be able to “insult the society he lives in” but also to be able to live in the style he so richly deserves…it’s not easy.

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