The Impact of the Environment as Depicted by Mark Twain in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, And in Sarah Orne Jewett’s, A White Heron
The role of nature is essential in every story across time. Nature has the ability to alter any situation and create a whole new mood in the scene. Nature becomes a symbol with a deeper meaning that travels through the story allowing the reader to relate to the character and adding depth to the plot. In the two stories Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and A White Heron, nature is distinctively used as a form of symbolism and quite often becomes a character itself. Though the two stories have opposite moods and produce contrasting results, the role of nature is the background cement that holds them together and carries the plot further while giving the character obstacles to overcome on the journey during the real issues in the story.
Nature is known for its beauty and magnificence happening all around us but it also can turn into a dangerous enemy that fights us in everything we try to do. Huck and Jim experience the nastier sad of nature as they travel up the Mississippi river. Huck even describes it as a “monstrous big river,” which gives nature a negative and fearsome appearance while also stating the power it holds over him as he is trying to control his canoe (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 155). Along with the force of the river acting against them, the next adversity in nature is the fog that clouds their vision the entire way. Huck was confused and lost while trying to listen to the noises all around him but “nothing don’t look natural nor sound natural in a fog” (154). The fog plays a significant role as a physical barrier working to blur and alter Huck’s vision while also serving a symbolic barrier about the time period and the harsh impact of slavery on the people. Another instance with the fog causes Huck to be frozen in fear as “it made me so sick and scared I couldn’t budge…” (154). The role of nature takes a definite negative connotation throughout this story. It plays as a manipulator and constant struggle to overcome. As it places fear and uncertainty into the characters it wins victory over them and succeeds at hindering them even further. Though the river and fog are physically stopping Huck and Jim, they are also symbolically standing in the way of society as they stand for the obstacles of slavery and unfair treatment of African American people.
Although nature was fighting against Huck and Jim, it also had instances where it brought them closer as friends and acted as a peaceful break from all the chaos going on in their lives. “It was kind of solemn, drifting down the big, still river, laying on our backs looking up at the stars,” (144). Nature acted as a pacifier and a place of serenity for escape. Silently sitting in the background at ease, nature can show mercy to Huck and Jim on their endeavors to their own forms of freedom from pain and persecution. Even though nature seems to be a constant battle for Huck and Jim, it also has its moments of amity where the story can take a small leap down from all the action to just sit and relax as if nature knew the two needed a break. “the river softened up, away off, and warn’t black anymore…” (176). Later on “the nice breeze springs up… so cool and fresh, and sweet to smell…” (176). It’s as if nature fights a battle within itself over chaos and harmony. This new role as a safe haven from the world deepens the meaning of the symbol which nature represents in this story. The harsh and cruel times they live in can have moments of happiness and agreement. Among all the fear, pain, and solitude there can be a source of joy, love, and friendship that can withstand even the strongest raging river or monstrous storm.
In contrast to the role of nature in Huckleberry Finn, the nature in White Heron is more of a close friend to young Sylvia treating her with peace and quiet stillness rather than anger and daring adversity. It is evident that she doesn’t want to leave this place of serenity as she “whispered that she this was a beautiful place to live in,” (A White Heron 414). Sylvia treats this farm as a place of escape and her own heaven of solitude to hide away in. She is described as the “little woods-girl” as she thinks about her past in the “noisy town” (414). It is obvious that she doesn’t prefer life in the town and would much rather spend time in the woods with the animals and her cow. Nature once again becomes her escape and symbolizes her freedom from the past. Further on a new symbol arises becoming the sole purpose of this little girls actions. This “strange white bird” was what Sylvia held on to with pride and affection. The heron was a symbol of life and freedom in her heart. Later on as she takes the adventure up the tree to locate this strange elusive bird nature comes to her aide with great care when it says, “who know how steadily the least twigs held themselves to advantage this light, weak creature on her way,” (418). Nature takes on the role of a motherly protector and caregiver to the young girl. It is almost as if the tree thrives off the attention it is getting from her since “the old pine must have loved his new dependent…” more than all the other animals that lived within the safety of its branches (418). The role of nature in this story doesn’t sway or change. It acts as a guardian for Sylvia as she goes on her long walks through the wilderness treating kindness and receiving it as well. The bond between Sylvia and nature is shown stronger when “the murmur of the pine’s green branches is in her ears…” (419). As nature became her protector through her years of growing up, She also returned the favor back with keeping the white heron’s nesting place a secret. Nature and Sylvia become one symbolizing the closeness we often have with family or friends who care about us. She can’t give away the life of nature when nature would never give her life.
In these two similar yet different stories, nature poses as a powerful, but beautiful creation that holds everything in the palm of its strong hands. It protects while challenges the characters to be bold and courageous. Nature’s significance puts the stories into motion and keeps them on track while creating symbols relative to the characters and the lives they live.
The real battles they fight are in themselves, but nature puts it all into a balanced perspective easy enough to understand. The result is an astounding realization of lessons learned and a deeper knowledge of personal morals and goals.
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