Mark Twain s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and J.D. Salinger s The Catcher in the Rye depict journeys from which the main characters learn many life lessons. Huck traveled down the Mississippi River and Holden wandered the streets of New York City. Even though these journeys are very different in setting, there are similarities in what Huck and Holden learned about themselves, about American society, and about the world in which they lived.
Both Holden and Huck are on a quest (Heisman, Miller 23). Huck is running away from home to the wild west where he thinks he will be accepted, while Holden is wandering the streets of New York City trying to find love and acceptance from others. Both feel as though everyone around them is fake or phony. All the boys want is to find a place in life where people don t judge them and aren t so hypocritical.
The societies in which they are searching, however, are not particularly friendly. The societies are filled with cruel people who do cruel things (Pritchett 13). Holden experiences a cruel act when Maurice, the elevator boy, and Sunny, the prostitute, attack him for supposedly not paying Sunny (Salinger 154). When attacked, he thought he was dying. He began to fantasize about being a movie hero seeking revenge. This is an example of how he is psychologically breaking down and struggling in his quest. In
Huck s case, he climbs onto a stranded boat and overhears two robbers threatening to kill another man (Twain 75). He also witnesses the murder of Old Boggs(Twain 95). In addition he observed the violence of the South where one man shot another because of an insult. This is a lesson to Huck of human nature and what was acceptable in society. He was discouraged by these lessons because they showed how people actually treated each other.
To make their journeys even more frustrating, Holden and Huck have to deal with hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is an attribute in which both Holden and Huck experience on their quests. Having love for his sister, Phoebe, and seeing that hypocrisy can hurt her, Holden feels he must protect her, and at the end of the book he feels he has done so. This makes Holden so insanely happy he has a nervous break down (Hieserman, Miller 24). Huck experiences hypocrisy when he wants to smoke a cigarette and Ms. Watson says no, even though she smokes herself (Twain 10). Seeing this hypocrisy confuses and frustrates both Huck and Holden.
Death plays a big role in Huck s and Holden s changed lives. Huck s staged death represents his growth into manhood. He withdraws from the life of society to the river. Each time Huck returns to the land then withdraws again to the river is an example of a pattern of death and rebirth. Huck s transformation from a boy to a man is an example of his old self dying and his new self being born again. In comparison, Holden s experience with death was real. The death of his brother, Allie, was one of the most traumatic experiences of his life and played a major role in his psychological breakdown. His avoidance of expressing his feelings may have resulted from Allie s death.
Some qualities hurt Holden in his journey but help Huck in his own. One of these qualities is love. Although he is not very successful, Holden seems to be in search of love from another woman. He also experiences traumatic encounters with his sexuality. Holden s sexual desire gets him into trouble, almost against his will, as he moves more deeply into the adult world. For example, Holden is driven by his sexuality to have the prostitute come to his room, but in the long run was hurt for supposedly not paying. The character of Jim and his relationship with Huck is also an example of love. At the beginning of the book, Huck seems to be childish and inconsiderate towards Jim. For example, he puts a snake at Jim s sleeping spot as a joke to scare him but it bites Jim (Twain 39). Huck eventually notices Jim s kindness and starts to accept him as a human. Huck accepts Jim so much he begins to see him not only as a friend but also as a father. Feeling this love towards Jim is a life lesson to Huck to accept others equally.
This comparison of the experiences of these two characters, Huck and Holden, describes the similarities in life lessons learned. Cruelty from others, hypocrisy, death and the search for love are themes that Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye have in common. Some of these experiences make the quest for Huck and Holden more difficult, and some help them along their journey. As a result of these life lessons, Huck and Holden transitioned from adolescence to adulthood.