This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.
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2006 Fifth Web Report
In "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn", there were multiple and varied examples of family structures. There were a few implications for the different models of family structures and one was that perhaps family can be found anywhere. Secondly with diverse models we know that there can be an individual mentality or a mob mentality toward family just as we talked about in class, but in this book I believe there is more of a mob mentality, especially with Huck Finn.
To say that family can be found anywhere is obvious to most anyone. Even the famous song, "We Are Family", prompts people to feel like kin. When making the statement that familial structures are everywhere in the novel, I am not exaggerating. It would almost be impossible to name them all, but some of the more important and distinct cliques are, Huck and his aunts, Huck and Tom, Huck and Jim, and the Duke and the Dauphin. The list I just made is clearly of people who are close with each other, but not related (as in parent to child). In the book we read, we saw how these people interacted daily an even though they may not have been related, they were as loving to one another as any family unit would be and that is why I consider them family. They obviously chose to be together. The other family units such as the Grangerfords, the Wilks, and the Phelps have different familial structures and models because they have traditional familial models. These people (or at least some of them) chose to be together at one time) and now the rest of them must deal with the consequences be them good or bad. It reminds me of a parents saying to a child, "She is your sister, you have to love her!" There may be love or hate in the family, but they are more or less stuck with what they have.
When David Ross came and visited the class he talked about economics and how an economist views things. Obviously, as we learned in class and as it says on Serendip, "Economics operates on the group level". Therefore, I took these thoughts from class and applied them to my thoughts about Huck Finn and individual versus group/mob mentality in the book.
When it comes to individual mentality there is not much room for it in familial relations because when one thinks on an individual level they are thinking for themselves and doing what they alone what to do. When a person belongs to a group they essentially give up they immediate right for individual thinking and work more toward group thoughts and what would be best for the group. An example of this is when Huck is on the raft with Jim and Huck is struggling with himself about the idea of turning Jim in. The reason this idea is so hard for Huck to make is because he is moving from and individual mindset to a group mindset as he forms a family unit with Jim. Once the family unit is complete I find it hard to believe that Huck would ever turn Jim in. Even when Huck has the chance to turn Jim in he passes it up by lying and saying there is sickness on their raft so that they are left alone and Jim is safe.
On the other hand, there is the group or mob mentality in correlation to family structures. The idea was clearly summarized on Serendip when it says that mob mentality is the, "concern with systematic harm, collective responsibility". In essence one would worry more about the group they are in as a whole and blame for something would be shared rather than any individual being singled out for any wrong-doing. This idea reminds me of economics in the sense that in the book families work as groups as do family units. Even though families work as units or with mob mentalities, they cannot change big concepts such as slavery, because each family is still an individual unit. In a way families are both groups and individuals in the way they work. They work like groups amongst themselves, but they cannot affect greater society much because that would require the binding together of many families to create a larger unit. I could not help but notice that people in class felt the book lacked in observing individuals, but that made sense to me because the book took on the role of showing how mod mentality plays out in families and in society.
In the book the mob mentality was more subtle, but also more broad. Clearly families were still involved because many people had to feel these feelings to cause things to happen, but mob mentality of a society is dissimilar from mob mentality of a single family. The society's feelings seemed to revolve mainly around slavery, education, and oddly enough society itself. The part family plays in this is such; families come together as a group with a collective thought on an issue and then decide where then stand when the issue comes into play. For example, with society, Huck's aunts felt being civilized was important and therefore tried to pass that feeling on to Huck. Many other people obviously thought being civilized was important as well; otherwise the society they were living in would be non-existent. That group of other people who also believed in being civilized was part of the cluster that held their mob mentality belief about society. Even though Mark Twain wrote "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" two decades after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, he set it decades earlier when society's mob feelings at the time were clearly toward slavery and yet a few people were beginning to become open to the idea of freeing slaves, but no where near enough. In the book society also felt a certain way about education and that was a combination of both good morals and intellectual education. There are very clear divisions between society and outcasts in the sense that the outcast, an example being Huck, talks of going to Hell when he disagrees with or questions society's teachings. Huck doesn't trust society at large because he feels it failed to protect him from abuse. Now he is uneducated and lacks society's morals, yet Huck is finding his own way based on his own experiences. He is moving away from society and carving out a new path. A group of people with society's idea of education would most likely be the Phelps', who ironically is the only intact family in the book. Both of the Phelps generally have good morals and are educated people for their time. They fit the mold for being educated for their time.
Undoubtedly mob mentality took precedence over individual mentality in the book not only with the way that it works inside of families, but also in entire societies. Individual mentality was only seen a small bit in the notion of a single person and their own thoughts. To take this idea of different mentalities and family structures and apply it to the world I have found that families can be found anywhere and in any form while at the same time they can have numerous different types of mentalities involved amongst them. I feel that individual mentality will most likely mirror the book in the sense that it is seen much less than obviously than mob/group mentality is, but it is still present; it just does not have as much of an impact on the group as it does on our own being. In Psychology class I learned that cultures differ in what they place as important whether it be the group or the self. In America the self is much more important than the group, but in Asia the group is more important. Twain wrote the book in America and the book still was pervaded with a group mentality, does that mean even though we are a self-centered culture, we still are very much group thinkers? What would have happened if Twain had written the book in Asia? Would he have changed the story completely because the people have a different mindset? It is too bad Twain did not write one of those books we used to have in elementary school where you could see multiple endings, expect for this I would be able to see how he would have written the book differently in a dissimilar culture.
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