Monday, February 23, 2009

Childhood Myths

Historian Steven Mintz's book, Huck's Raft: A History of American Childhood sees Huck's journey on the Mississippi River as a metaphor for childhood in the United States — the "youthful wonder" and the "unsettling underside" found in the novel's "more sinister aspects." However, Mintz warns, "a series of myths have clouded public thinking about the history of American childhood." He lists the following six myths:
  1. the myth of a carefree childhood
  2. the myth of home as a haven a source of stability
  3. the myth that childhood is the same for everybody
  4. the myth that the United States is a particularly child-friendly society
  5. the myth of progress (children keep learning, developing and growing in a straight slope) and
  6. the myth of decline (children start off perfect, pure and become corrupted)
Which of these do you see in the novel? Which of these do you see in your parents' attitude toward child-rearing? Ask your friends and your family (especially people from the older generation, like Mr. Bolos) if their views on children and parenting have changed in past generation or two.


LukeHG said...

I think in Huck Finn, the myth of a carefree childhood is dispelled. I think this becuase Huck lives a childhood quite the oppisite of a carefree one. I know to me a carefree childhood does not contain murder and traveling down the mississippi river on a raft with a Man who is being hunted by all kinds of people. I ceirtainly dont think a carefree childhood contains your father chasing you around with a knife calling you the Angel of Death.

Adam said...

thanks oc im excited to dig in, gotta run but expect a lengthy response tonight

LukeHG said...

After reading this blog post again I came to the conclusion that # 5 the myth of Progress is present in the book Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I think Huck makes Great Progress with how he treats and views (the slave) Jim and I think this is very apparent on page 179 when he (Huck) says
"All right, then, I'll go to hell--and tore it up."
I think this is one of the most Seminal points of the book its when Huck decides to save Jim.

Adam said...

One myth that immediately intrigued me was the myth of a carefree childhood. My friends and I always joke that we wish we were living in the "boys will be boys" era. When if a boy got in trouble whether it be in school or with the law, people would just say, "boys will be boys" and brush it off. While this mythology may have existed 50 years ago, it hardly exists now. Growing up, my parents never rationalized my poor behavior with the saying. In Huck Finn, it doesn't seem evident at all. Orginally I tried to apply the myth to Huck while living with Miss Watson at the beggining of the book. All though Huck might have wished Miss Watson used the myth, she hardly did.

Julia said...

I agree with LukeHG with number 5. I believe that number 5: the myth of progress is present in the book Huck Finn because you can see as the book goes on that Huck is learning from his mistakes and growing up. You can see that Huck is growing throughout the book and we can tell that he is maturing and understanding how to survive in nature without having his dad around. Huck comes up with some great plans, but as we know, some of these plans do not work out to well for Huck, but he learns from his mistakes and tried to make his next plan better, although sometimes he still messes up.
I know that i have talked to my mom before on how parenting has changed throughout the years and she said that when she was younger, parents didnt really enforce the "seatbelt" rule in the car. I dont know if that is going with the whole parenting thing, but i know that when i was younger and in the car with my parents, they always made sure that my seatbelt was on. And my mom said that when she was younger, her parents didnt care if she had a seatbelt on or not.

Cleo and Leo said...

Looks interesting. I have ordered it from the liberal arts library here on campus.


Kimber said...

I think that the one myth that I “want” to say I see in the novel is myth number 5. When I think of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I think of the progress that Huck makes and the lessons he learns on the way, but from the content that is presented in the book I cannot see this progress. Yes, Huck and Tom have agreed to help “steal Jim out of slavery,” but since the beginning of the book Huck’s thoughts of Jim have not changed much.
From the beginning, Huck sees Jim as inferior to him. He frequently calls Jim “wild,” a word that he commonly uses to describe animals. He also states on page 68 that, “I see it warn’t no use wasting words-you can’t learn a nigger to argue.” Further on in the book, Huck depicts Jim as “a nigger and wouldn’t understand the reasons for it, (page 201).”
Furthermore, I believe that Mark Twain is attempting to teach the public that the myth of a carefree childhood and the myth of home as a source of stability (numbers 1 and 2) do not exist. Twain shows the many struggles Huck has with his drunken father, and how his childhood is so dysfunctional that he has chosen to pretend he is dead and run away. Also, it is obvious that Huck does not have a stable home. He is struggling with the options of living with his drunken dad who lives in a cabin in the middle of the woods and has no money, or with a widow at her home where he feels “all cramped up.”
I cannot find one of the listed myths that Twain portrays in the novel, he is showing the “unsettling underside” of childhood that Huck Finn is exposed to.

Jillian F said...

I think that there is definitely progress in the book from the start of Huck's adventure to where we are now in the story. I also think that that the second one does not really apply to Huck, because the only home that he has is his raft on the river and it is not really a place of stability.
I think that there is no myth of decline. No one starts off perfect and becomes corrupted, this contradicts the myth of progress, getting corrupted in not progress, at least not progress in a good way.

Alex B said...

I agree with Jillian about myth #5. I think that Huck progresses to appreciate Jim and others as the book goes on. In the beginning Huck saw Jim as an inferior and now he views Jim as a father figure and friend. I also think that the raft and the river serve as Huck’s home for most of the book. The raft represents a safe haven for both Jim and Huck. It provides a place where they can be themselves, because whenever Huck is not on the raft he is pretending to be someone else and Jim will be in hiding. It resembles a home that way.

Kate H said...

I think that Myth number 1 and myth number 4 are shown it Huckleberry Finn. With myth number on the idea of a carefree childhood, Huck spends most of his time never going to school, eating, sleeping, and spending his days in the calm of the river. The myth that the United States is a particularly child-friendly society shows up with our ideas of Huck, in the picture that comes with this blog post you see him depicted as a smaller boy with a pipe as big as his hand but when you read the book i thought of Huck to be older because of the way people reacted to him. The only place that he is treated like a child is when he is living with the Widow. When it comes to my parents attitude towards child-rearing I think they belive in a combination of myth five and six. There attitude twords me and my sister is simple all kids are born equal. As soon as they are but a minute old its the parents job to teach them right vs wrong. If the parents stay away the child will most likely end up being under developed mentally and most likely end up corrupt.

Jack Terrier said...

There Are a few myths that I would highly agree with, but there are others that I don't think are shown In Huck Finn. The "Myth of carefree childhood" I think is the main message sent through the book. There's nothing that you can find that shows that Huck has too many worries. He doesn't care about how he looks, what he does, how much money he has, and most of all, the future. Huck says that the richest he'd ever been was when he was just lying on the shore with Jim, fishing and shmokin' cigars. One myth I'd disagree with is that home is a source of stability. Maybe I haven't read far enough, but when Huck is home, he's always being bothered by the Widow, and also has to worry about his drunken father coming for him.

andrea said...

I'm going to have to disagree with JackRT... i do not think that the book demonstrates the myth of carefree childhood, because of what you said about myth #2. Huck is worried about his drunk father, he is nagged by the widow and miss watson when he is at home, showing that his childhood is nothing but carefree, however very "cramped up" as he says in the book. Then when he is out on the river with Jim after he fakes his own murder, they encounter death so frequently that Huck's innocence is basically lost. From the man that they found in the cave, to Buck and the Grangerfords, to Boggs and Peter Wilks, Huck's life is filled with trauma. He has to worry about having people find out who he is and that he was not actually murdered, and he must realize that his best friend, Jim, is a runaway slave and could be taken from him at any moment if they are not careful... In my opinion, this is not a very carefree childhood.

I would say that I see the myth of decline the most in the book, because we see Huck losing his innocence in the novel while he is entering manhood. I would say that when children are not protected by adults, the decline begins. The world is corrupt, and when Huck leaves Miss Watson and the widow, he enters the real world. I believe that this is where Huck loses his innocence and becomes "corrupted" through the deaths he witness and the fraudulent people like the duke and dauphin.

andrea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
maddie hilbrant said...

I agree with Andrea, i think that the myth of decline is definitely displayed in the book, but I don't know if i can put a myth to the story. No part of Huck's life is normal and I'm not sure that I could say a certain myth represents the story. In my opinion, the book covers many myths but not fully. There are certain parts of Hucks childhood that are carefree (in response to JackRT's comment) and there are certain parts of decline (andreas comment).

Frettzilla said...

One of the biggest myths i saw in the book was the myth of home as a source of stability. this can be seen in the book because whenever Huck gets into a sticky situation he is immediately going to his raft where is like a home for him. for example after buck got killed he went to look for the raft because that is where he feels safe. another example is when the towns people where going to the graveyard and huck got away he went straight to the raft.