Today in class, as we discussed the connections between Dick from Ragged Dick and Huck from Huckleberry Finn, I had a sudden revelation. They’re the two sides of America. Dick is a quintessential corporate man, embodying the Victorian qualities of teaching “people to work hard, to postpone gratification, to repress themselves sexually, to ‘improve’ themselves, to be sober, conscientious, even compulsive” (Howe 521) – qualities valued by today’s meritocratic class.
Huck embodies the “light out for the territory” slacker, the underachiever on the flip side of the Type A class.
When I connected this to the idea of the establishment v. outsider, we quickly found ourselves in the political arena, with presidential candidates marketing themselves either as Dick (establishment) or Huck (maverick).
So. . . .
Do we want the unreality of Dick, or the realism – but slackitude – of Huck?
Same novel (Huckleberry).
During our discussion of Colonel Sherburn’s murder of Boggs, we had another revelation. In light of our earlier discussion on politics, I asked “Why don’t the other [Republican] candidates push back against Trump, who, like Sherburn, insinuates that those against him are girly girls (as the Colonel tells the crowd “Your mistake is, that you didn’t bring a man with you”)?” Obviously, they can’t lynch him as the town wants to do with Sherburn, but they don’t even call him an “asshole” when it’s clear that they all feel that way.
The students were quick to see that Sherburn just stares them down, intimidating the very people who just minutes before were snapping the rope to check its strength. Twain writes, in a description that could capture Trump’s baleful stare,”Sherburn run his eye slow along the crowd; and wherever it struck the people tried a little to out-gaze him, but they couldn’t; they dropped their eyes and looked sneaky.”
These students rock.
They quickly grasped how a novel written in the nineteenth century helps explain twenty first century politics.
And so much for the “profiles in courage” of our current political class.
Howe, Daniel Walker. “American Victorianism as a Culture.” American Quarterly. (27) December 1975: 507-532.