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Book Analysis

Narrative Structure in 1984 and Huckleberry Finn - Shreya Sachdev

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, written by Mark Twain, and 1984, written by George Orwell, are two incredible novels that share many differences yet many similarities as well. For example, both the main protagonists (Winston Smith in 1984 and Huck in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) live in a society that claims to be civilised and caring for their citizens. Yet, this is far from the truth. In 1984, for instance,  Big Brother is created to try and brainwash the citizens and make sure that the government has total control over them. Big Brother watches their every move and it is impossible to switch the telescreen off. The citizens are given cigarettes and alcohol to make them cope with their confusion. Therefore, one can certainly say that this society is not human and is not as civil as they claim to be. Likewise, in Huckleberry Finn, whilst Huck does not live in a totalitarian government, the laws and the rules created by the court claim to be morally right. However, the treatment of Jim and the fact that the court allows Huck’s drunk father to continue taking caring of Huck is proof that the court isn’t as morally right as it appears to be. Furthermore, both novels have a strong underlying theme of disobedience and not agreeing with rules and regulations put upon society. Mark Twain and George Orwell convey this theme through chronological events that the main protagonists find themselves that help them develop as a character and aid to their overall mindset of the society they have been brought up in.

Both novels begin with introducing the hypocrisy of the “civilised” society. In the opening lines of 1984, Winston is described as being old, weak, and having to stop every few seconds in order to rest. He is also described as “a smallish, frail figure, the meagreness of his body merely emphasized by the blue overalls which were the uniform of the party. His hair was very fair, his face naturally sanguine, his skin roughened by coarse soap and blunt razor blades.” Likewise, in Huckleberry Finn, the quote  “I got into my old rags and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied” does not present Huck as a clean or healthy child. This is also apparent in the quote “The widow she cried over me, and called me a poor lost lamb, and she called me a lot of other names, too, but she never meant no harm by it. She put me in them new clothes again, and I couldn’t do nothing but sweat and sweat, and feel all cramped up.” Both the descriptions of Winston Smith and Huck Finn do not portray them in a pleasant light, and could imply that society is not actually taking care of them if this is the state of their appearance.  In addition to not being presented well, the authoritative figure in 1984 is Big Brother and the opening lines present Big Brother as constantly keeping an eye on Winston Smith and following him around everywhere he goes. Likewise, Huck is also being controlled, although to a lesser extent, by Miss Watson as shown by the quote: “Miss Watson would say, Don’t put your feet up there, Huckleberry; and “Don’t scrunch up like that, Huckleberry—set up straight; and pretty soon she would say, “Don’t gap and stretch like that, Huckleberry—why don’t you try to behave?” It is obviously impossible to truly compare Big Brother and Miss Watson, but one can say that it is their ideas and rules that make both Winston Smith and Huck question society. The party’s implementation of Goldstein prompts Winston Smith to wonder whether or not Goldstein is even real, and whether or not he even actually rebelled against the party at one point. Likewise, Huck doesn’t understand why the widow continues to talk to him about dead people as he doesn’t find this to be of importance. He begins to question the widow’s intelligence. Thus, by giving a physical description of Winston Smith and Huck Finn, as well as introducing the secondary characters that control Winston Smith and Huck Finn’s lives, the reader is able to understand the context of the situation and comprehend what enables Winston Smith and Huck Finn to realize that the society they live in is not as civil as it claims to be. This foreshadows Winston Smith and Huck’s further realisations about the world around them.

Both Mark Twain and George Orwell want the reader to feel a certain sense of fear and worry for both the main protagonists. In 1984, on page nine, the reader learns that Winston Smith keeps a diary where he is able to openly express his feelings and thoughts about Big Brother. Winston Smith also states that if the government finds out about his diary then he would be punished by death or at least sent for twenty five years in a forced labor camp. Since the reader already knows about how the government goes to great extents to control their citizens (putting up posters of Big Brother all over town, giving citizens alcohol and cigarettes to help them cope with their frustration, and so on) it is quite easy for the readers to believe that if the government did find out about Winston Smith’s diary, then he will indeed be killed. Therefore, Winston Smith’s actions make the reader feel anxious and troubled for Winston. However, it does help the reader create a sense of admiration for Winston for having the courage to be able to take small steps of rebellion despite knowing the consequences. The reader also is likely to want Winston Smith to succeed in getting away from Big Brother and a society that treats him so badly. Likewise, in Huckleberry Finn, the reader learns that Huck Finn is good friends with Tom Sawyer, and that he desperately wants to be part of “Tom Sawyer’s Gang.” On page eight of the novel, the reader learns that Tom Sawyer may not be the best of influence on Huck Finn by the use of the quotation:  “It swore every boy to stick to the band, and never tell any of the secrets; and if anybody done anything to any boy in the band, whichever boy was ordered to kill that person and his family must do it, and he mustn’t eat and he mustn’t sleep till he had killed them and hacked a cross in their breasts, which was the sign of the band.” This is, with no doubt, quite a gory and brutal thing for a boy so young to say. As the reader knows earlier, when Huck asked Miss Watson whether or not Tom Sawyer would be “In the good place” Miss Watson tells him that he wouldn’t be, and Huck says “I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be together.” With this statement in mind along with Tom Sawyer’s rules for the boys who are part of his gang, the reader begins to feel worried for Huck Finn and the people he is surrounding himself with. This again is a foreshadowing technique used by Mark Twain that causes the reader to continue reading along with hope that Tom Sawyer’s gang does not force Huck Finn into doing something that he is not comfortable doing.

Mark Twain and George Orwell then go back to displaying the hypocrisies of the civilised society Winston Smith and Huck Finn are living in. In 1984, on page sixteen of the novel, the reader is introduced to the “Two Minute Hate” in which the citizens of Oceania are obliged to release all of their supposed hatred and aversion towards Emmanuel Goldstein, a person who was once a citizen in Oceania like everyone else but abused Big Brother and disobeyed the government. The government has portrayed Emmanuel Goldstein as having “fuzzy aureole of white hair and a small goatee beard—a clever face, and yet somehow inherently despicable, with a kind of senile silliness in the long thin nose, near the end of which a pair of spectacles was perched. It resembled the face of a sheep, and the voice, too, had a sheep-like quality.” It is clear that the government have portrayed Emmanuel Goldstein in quite a hideous manner, and this may prompt readers to question whether or not Emmanuel Goldstein is even real, or if he is simply a creation of the party in order to evoke an even greater sense of obedience and loyalty in the citizens towards the government. This shows the hypocrisy of society because if the government is lying towards their citizens about Emmanuel Goldstein, then they clearly are not actually caring for their citizens and instead trying to make sure that they do not defy the party, by manipulating them. Likewise, in Huckleberry Finn, on page twenty-five of the novel, the reader learns that the court allows for Huck Finn’s abusive father to come back and have custody of Huck Finn. This again makes the reader skeptical of how caring this society truly is towards its citizens if the court is allowing a young boy be under the guardianship and care of a drunk and abusive man. With more faults in society exposed, the reader in turn begins to have more compassion and empathy for the two main protagonists. The biggest effect that this has is that it allows for the reader to excuse some of the protagonist’s somewhat confusing acts. For example, later on in the novel, Winston Smith rents a room in Mr.Charrington’s store so he can continue his affair with Julia. Because Winston Smith does not know anything about Mr.Charrington, one can easily blame Winston Smith for the circumstances he finds himself in at the end of the novel. However, by exposing the faults in society and how hypocritical the government is, the reader instead feels more solicitude towards the protagonist and loathing towards the society. Likewise, in Huckleberry Finn, when Huck and Jim meet the Duke and the Dauphin, one can easily make the assumption that it is Huck and Jim’s fault for allowing the Duke and the Dauphin to go on their journey with them and allowing them to take advantage of them. However, the reader instead is understanding of the circumstances that Huck and Jim are in and does not criticize them. The reason as to why Mark Twain and George Orwell want to put this feeling of compassion and sensitivity in the beginning of the novel is so that the reader has a continuing feeling of empathy towards the protagonists and does not blame them for controversial or foolish acts that they may undertake. In turn, George Orwell is able to focus on conveying the message that he wants to convey through 1984: The dangers of a totalitarian government. Likewise, Mark Twain is ensured that instead of readers blaming the characters, they will instead choose to focus on the main themes of the novel which could include racism and slavery, for example, or even failure of the education system.

Now that the controlling figures (Big Brother and Miss Watson) have been introduced, and the hypocrisy of the civilised society has been exposed, Mark Twain and George Orwell can now go on to start the climax of the novels, which is Winston Smith and Julia’s affair in 1984 and Huck Finn and Jim’s adventure down the Mississippi River in Huckleberry Finn. These events are placed in the middle of the novel to show the development the characters go through after running away from their everyday lives. In 1984, Winston Smith takes a courageous act by deciding to become intimate with Julia - an act that is strictly forbidden by the government. This is a big change in his everyday life as before, Winston Smith would only dream of rebelling. Although he is still not going to extreme lengths of rebelling, having an affair with Julia is certainly a step forward and instigates hope for his dream finally coming true. That is, changing society for the future generations. In Huckleberry Finn, Huck Finn begins to have the time of his life going down the river with Jim, and this makes him realize that black people should not be treated unfairly or of lower status, and him realizing this helps him develop as a character and change his mind about what he has been taught all his life and what everyone around him as chosen to believe: The color of your skin should determine the way you are treated.

In the ending of the novel, Mark Twain and George Orwell incorporate their main message through the book. In Huckleberry Finn, the ending revolves around Jim finally being free and Huck Finn refusing to live with Aunt Sally.  Instead of returning home or staying on the Phelpses’ farm, Huck wishes to escape civilization altogether and “light out for the Indian Territory.” However, the main significance of the ending is that Jim is finally free. Jim would not have been able to be free if it wasn’t for his adventure with Huck, and this is crucial in the novel. Huck comes from the lowest level of society, and has never had a proper childhood. However, the fact that he is able to free Jim from the hard labor and mistreatment that Jim has been going through all his life is proof that it is often times the lower class that are able to really make a difference. This goes hand in hand with the theme of failure of the education system, since Huck never received an education but all the middle class characters (Tom Sawyer) certainly did and do not consider Jim to be of equal worth. The ending of 1984, on the other hand, is quite tragic as Winston Smith and Julia are seperated. Winston Smith discovers that O’Brien and Mr.Charrington are members of the thought police, and that Winston Smith is now going to be brainwashed into loving Big Brother. The ending helps George Orwell wrap up the main theme of the novel, which is the dangers of a totalitarian government and the extreme lengths that certain governments go through to instill submissiveness into their citizens.

To conclude, I believe that the way the events are organized in the two novels help the reader focus on the key themes and motifs of the novel, as well as understand what the author wants the reader to take away from the novel. This episodic and chronological structure that includes foreshadowing of events involving the main protagonists also aid the reader in understanding the development of the protagonists and what enables them to make their choices the way they do.


Shreya Sachdev