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Book Analysis

How Symbols Are Used To Enrich In Orwell's 1984 and Twain's Huckleberry Finn - Shreya Sachdev

The use of symbols in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and George Orwell’s 1984 aid both authors in conveying the deeper meaning of the two novels. Both authors symbolize common themes such as freedom, manipulation, control, and much more. A key difference between the way that Twain incorporates symbols and the way that Orwell incorporates symbols is that there Twain does not symbolize objects, but rather phrases and settings. On the contrary, Orwell symbolizes objects as well as phrases and places. In the following essay, I intend to consider how symbols are used to specifically enrich themes and motifs that Orwell and Twain intend on the reader to understand in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and 1984.

For example, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain constantly uses Huck’s journey down the Mississippi River to symbolize freedom from the so called “civilised society.” As Huck is traveling down the  Mississippi River, his friendship with Jim develops and he is allowed to have his independent thoughts and feelings. He is away from the radical preaching of Miss Watson and does not have to listen to her religious views. Instead, Huck realizes that he is genuinely enjoying himself with Jim and soon, he comes to realize that the society he has grown up in may not be as civil as it says it is. Huck comes to realize that Jim should be as equal as him in society, and this is what leads him to  “light out for the [Indian] Territory” in the West and escape civilisation altogether. The fact that Twain also uses a river to symbolize freedom is significant because a river has a starting point (the source) and an ending point (the mouth). Therefore, Twain could be trying to invite the reader to understand that in the beginning of Huck’s journey down the Mississippi River, Huck still viewed Jim as someone who was inferior to him. However, as time went on and Huck developed through the lessons he made on his journey, he realized that Jim was equal to him and does not deserve the harsh treatment he deserves. In 1984, likewise, Orwell also wants to symbolize freedom. However, he does it through the use of objects. Specifically, Orwell uses act to symbolize freedom and hope for Winston. Winston buys a glass paperweight in an antique store in the prole district that comes to symbolize his attempt to reconnect with the past. Symbolically, when the Thought Police arrest Winston at last, the paperweight shatters on the floor which means that all of the dreams and ambitions Winston wanted to achieve for future generations has now been wiped away. Thus, whilst both the Mississippi River and the glass paperweight symbolize freedom, they are different in many ways. The beginning of Huck’s journey starts off with Huck still stuck with the same ideas and beliefs that the “civilised” society has imposed onto him. However, as time goes on, these thoughts and beliefs begin to disappear and Huck begins to see the flaws in the society he has grown up in. On the other hand, the glass paperweight gives Winston hope for the future as he believes that through this object, he will be able to connect with the past and figure out what has been taken away from him by the government. Thus, this symbol starts with something positive. However, in the end, because it shatters and breaks, the glass paperweight is unfortunately associated with extremely heartbreak for Winston.

Interestingly enough, both Winston Smith and Huck smoke. Perhaps this is their coping mechanism and how they are able to deal with their everyday life, and how they are able to deal with living in a society in which they are unable to express their own opinions and voices. Even though Huck is just a child and perhaps wants to smoke to look a certain way,  he may be smoking due to the fact that it does actually calm him down and help him live in the world he lives in. It can be said that it is the government that imposes smoking and drinking in 1984 because they want their citizens to calm themselves down and to be able to cope with not having any freedom. However, in Huckleberry Finn, there is no evidence of a government doing such a thing. Huck simply chooses on his own will to smoke, which in turn symbolises his freedom from civilisation. The symbolism of cigarettes and alcohol is apparent in both Huckleberry Finn and 1984 in the same way, and helps to show the extent of Winston and Huck’s tensions and uncomfortability in their societies.

In Huckleberry Finn, weather is used to foreshadow the danger that Jim and Huck find themselves in when they are with the Duke and the Dauphin. The quote “Towards night it begun to darken up and look like rain; the heat lightning was squirting around low down in the sky, and the leaves was beginning to shiver—it was going to be pretty ugly, it was easy to see that. So the duke and the king went to overhauling our wigwam, to see what the beds was like” is proof that Mark Twain is using the weather to foreshadow how the Duke and Dauphin are not going to be good influences on Huck and Jim and that they are going to try and steal Huck and Jim’s beds. Huck and Jim are also put in extreme danger when they are ordered by the Duke and Dauphin to look over the raft whilst they slept comfortably in Huck and Jim’s beds: “The waves most washed me off the raft sometimes.” Likewise,the opening lines of 1984 say “It was a bright cold day in April.” The coldness could foreshadow the heartlessness and pitiless of The Party. The role of weather in 1984 seems to be of extreme importance throughout the book as it is used a lot, for example even when Winston meets Julia for the first time in the forest he states that the sunlight exposes him. In Huckleberry Finn, the role of weather is mostly used when Huck and Jim encounter the Duke and the Dauphin. Therefore, both Twain and Orwell symbolize weather to foreshadow potential dangerous events and people.

Both Twain and Orwell symbolize the level of corruption in society. In Huckleberry Finn, the Duke and Dauphin are symbols of this corruption. They pretend not to know each other, and they portray themselves as down-and-out European royals in an attempt to inspire in Huck and Jim a combination of pity and reverence. It doesn’t take long before Huck figures out their ruse, but he and Jim still get swept up in their swindling ways. Together the four characters go from town to town, giving mediocre performances and scamming the locals out of their money. However, no matter how much they fail this doesn’t change the ways of the Duke and Dauphin; they keep doing what they do, no matter the consequences. If anything, failure only increases the intensity of their greed, which comes to a head in the novel when the Dauphin steals Jim away and sells him to Silas and Sally Phelps. In addition to driving the plot by offering further “adventures” and selling Jim, the Duke and the Dauphin also serve thematic purposes in the book. First, their greed echoes that of several other unfavorable characters, including Pap and the murderous thieves aboard the wrecked steamboat. This pervasive hunger for money at the expense of others contributes to the book’s overall concern with the corruptness of society. Likewise, in 1984, the government is a symbol of this corruption. There is clear corruption in society by the amount of information that The Party keeps hidden and how they trick their own citizens (for example with the use of Big Brother posters all over Oceania as well as the Two Minute Hate) in order to make sure that nobody rebels so that they are able to stay powerful. Therefore, the government in 1984 is trying to trick its citizens for their own selfish reasons just as the Duke and Dauphin are trying to trick Huck and Jim in order to get money.

To conclude, it is clear that the symbols in Huckleberry Finn and 1984 aid the reader in understanding the deeper and often darker meaning behind the books. Through the use of weather, objects, setting, and people, Mark Twain and George Orwell are able to express their messages and themes regarding their works much more clearly and are able to make the reader think twice about what they are trying to highlight about certain societies and the flaws that they specifically want to point out about these societies as well as character actions. However, symbols can also be associated with something positive as shown with the Mississippi River.


Shreya Sachdev