Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Fiedler, Little Eva, and Sentimentalism
Fiedler writes about Harriet Beecher Stowe’s character, Little Eva, saying that a sentimental, pure little girl like Eva is destined to be dishonored, since in our Protestant society she doesn’t have the option of the convent and the “role of the old maid in our culture is hopelessly comic—wife, mother, or widow, tinged no matter how slightly with the stain of sexuality, suffered perhaps rather than sought, but, in any case, there!” (265). That’s the state of female sexuality in Stowe’s novels.

Another consideration Fiedler gives is the distinction between the “Good Good Boy” and the “Good Bad Boy” in Twain’s Tom Sawyer. Fiedler says the “Good Good Boy does what his mother must pretend that she wants him to do: obey, conform” (265). On the other hand, the “Good Bad Boy does what she really wants him to do: deceive, break her heart a little, be forgiven” (266). We see Becky Thatcher (as a “Good Good Girl”) chastise Tom, but Fiedler reminds us that she really means it “as an endearment” (266). Women like Becky are fated to suffer because they “love boys precisely because they play hooky, cuss, steal in a mild sort of a way, dream of violence” (266). How true! We complain because this behavior (real life) strikes as us something new at the turn of the NEXT century. Could it be that the literature of the turn of the LAST century somehow influences us, that the way love and death are portrayed in the American novel really makes a difference on the way we act now?

Anyway, Fiedler says that because Twain seems too be writing “as a boy,” he seems to try to avoid scenes of “physical passion, refusing the Don Juan role traditional for European writers” (267). He relaxes other archetypal characters as well, so the “diabolic outcast” character of the European Faustian story becomes in Twain’s hands a “little devil” (267).
Fiedler says it’s hard to trace the origins of the “fear of sex” in the American novel. It may be “fear of sex” itself, the immaturity of the country, the fact that the topic was forbidden, or whatever. The point is that indeed it did become a forbidden topic, and that sense of the illicit traveled to the novel.

A lengthy discussion of Huckleberry Finn follows, where Fiedler talks about Twain’s purposes. Interestingly, he mentions that HF is not a sequel to Tom Sawyer, but rather an “alternative version of the same theme” (276). In both books, death surprises the child characters. Both require the characters to “escape to an island,” though the results of the time spent on the island vary (276). Also, in both “there is a terrorized flight from a threatening Satantic figure, who also stands outside the community”” (277).

Both books also have an archetypal character who acts as a savior or angel to rescue them, like Becky in Tom Sawyer and Jim in HF (278). Fiedler also says that Tom Sawyer is the first of a long line “of books intended to be read by a boy with his father” (281). In other words, it’s a good cultural marker.

Fiedler says, the “reign of sentimentalism in the American novel not only made it exceedingly difficult for our writers to portray sexual passion, but presented them as well from drawing convincing portraits of women” (288).

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