While both lived in the country’s south – Huck in Missouri and Edna in Louisiana, their stories are set in somewhat different times, and different central issues are present. Huck’s story is set in the pre-civil war 1830’s, a time when slavery, racism and inequality were abound, yet were not considered a thing out of the norm. All social institutions and authority figures in Huck’s surroundings were accepting of the reality, and as a result, his innate values found nothing morally wrong with the situation, and his personal journey (combined with the literal one) resulted in a change of this perception.
If one were to mark the start of this inner journey, it would probably be best illustrated by Huck’s exclamation of genuine shock – “Jim! ” (Baym 245), when the runaway slave tells him that he is, indeed, a runaway slave. In this exclamation lie the values Huck starts out with, the thought that Jim, who is lawful property of Miss Watson, did something horrible to her by running away.
Change can begin to be spotted when Huck realizes that people are looking for Jim and says “Git up and hum yourself, Jim! There ain’t a minute to lose. They’re after us! ” (Baym 257). It’s this “us” that shows the change in Huck’s perception – People in fact are after Jim, not them. Similarly, Edna Pontellier’s surrounding society and its description in the beginning of The Awakening serve to illustrate what she starts out with.
The aristocratic Louisiana Creole society of the 1890’s was male-dominant, but not so much in a forcible sense as in the sense that women were expected to do as their husbands say and were expected to follow a certain unwritten code of unquestionable obedience. Chopin presents this rather openly, when describing the other women in the novel – “They were women who idolized their children, worshipped their husbands, and esteemed it a holy privilege to efface themselves as individuals and grow wings as ministering angels. (Baym 638).
This was the ideal woman of the time and place, something that Edna Pontellier was not, as is evident from her husband’s reprimanding of her for neglecting the children (Baym 637) in the beginning already. Thus, Edna starts out with a phantom acceptance of her culture’s values, but her awakening is triggered by that summer spent on Grand Isle – and a major change is brought about, in the form of Edna’s quest for the freedom of being herself in life (Baym 643). A process similar in sequence to what happened to Huck.
At this point, the inner journeys for both characters begin to speed up, and the significance of the revelations they make increases. Huck and Jim set out on their journey down the Mississippi on their raft, and it’s in the process of this journey that Huck changes, mainly due to his discovering of things about Jim that he did not consider possible before. Although it’s only the case of one person now, Jim, these discoveries register as discoveries about a larger group of people in Huck’s mind – black slaves.
When on one occasion he tricked Jim and made him feel extremely bad, it took Huck fifteen minutes to finally manage to bring himself to apologize before a black person. Even though it was something not innate to his values, he did it, and didn’t feel sorry he did as much as he felt surprised that Jim indeed was hurt, and therefore had emotions too (Baym 272). What Huck considered right still gave him no rest, for he was doing something very wrong by helping Jim in his escape, this perhaps is his central internal conflict.
When Jim talks of stealing his children from their owner, it shocks Huck even more, and he is disappointed to hear such talk from Jim (Baym 281, 282), yet, it eventually makes him realize that black people too have families, and that they feel attached to them just as white people are to theirs. This realization is a big surprise for Huck, because it undermines all the values he has been taught by life in the south – black people are human. A central internal conflict is what happens to Edna as well, although it is different in nature.
The seed of this conflict can be located in something she says to Madame Ratignolle, her model Creole woman friend: “I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for the children; but I wouldn’t give myself. ” (Baym 669, 670). Of course, the only one who understood these words to some degree at least was Edna herself, only she realizes what the summer spent on Grand Isle with Robert, before he left to Mexico, triggered in her – a big resentment of everything she was forced into, and a discovery of certain parts of her psyche that she did not know even existed.
As they return to New Orleans, it worries Edna’s husband that she abandons all of her housekeeping responsibilities and just generally defies him – as he tells it to the family doctor who he came for advice to (Baym 684). As soon as Mr. Pontellier leaves for yet another business trip, Edna automatically feels better about everything in her life, and “As she snuggled comfortably beneath the eiderdown a sense of restfulness invaded her, such as she had not known before. ” (Baym 690).
It can be clearly understood from this that Edna’s husband’s mere presence created negative emotions, probably because of the constant authority he has always had over her. Both Huck and Edna have at this point discovered very significant new things, but they have been in discoveries in slightly different directions. In Huck’s case, it was mainly about the outside world, but it nevertheless triggered a change of perception in him. We can see that Huck is not of ill moral character, he has a general sense of what is right and what is wrong, part of which would still fit even our times.
This is evident from his decision to help Mary Jane and her sisters reclaim the money that the frauds robbed them of (Baym 342). Yet, at several points throughout his journey down the river with Jim, he has pondered the option of notifying Miss Watson of the whereabouts of her property, and therefore turning Jim in, because according to what he has been taught, it would be the right thing to do. Huck soundly believes that if he doesn’t do it, he will go to hell as punishment for his crime, because that’s what the church and Sunday school of the south taught him.
Perhaps the most significant turning point is his decision to defy these teachings – “All right, then, I’ll go to hell” (Baym 359), he said as he tore up the letter of notification he meant to send to Miss Watson. He still considers himself wicked, although evidently, he has placed Jim’s value to him as his friend higher than Jim being a runaway slave, or maybe a decision that slavery is indeed wrong, although the reader is not told of it.
This is the culmination of Huck’s inner journey, and from now on, he acts according to his new convictions (doing all he can to free Jim). When in the novel’s end Aunt Sally plans to adopt him yet again, he is not accepting of it, perhaps because he feels that he would be unable to fall back into southern life with the new knowledge he has acquired, and decides to take off for Indian territories (Baym 407). Similarly, Edna has been subject to certain realizations that alter her perception of herself and the world around her, making her act accordingly.
She is shocked at the feelings that a kiss from Alci?? e Arobin arouses in her – “It was the first kiss of her life to which her nature had really responded. It was a flaming torch that kindled desire. ” (Baym 698). She was a married woman, and yet she had never experienced true passion for her husband as much as she did for this man she barely knew. Her societal values blare out that it is wrong, yet she feels no remorse, and that upsets her even more (Baym 698).
From this sudden revelation of a new aspect of herself and on, Edna, in a sense just like Huck, slowly realizes that with her newly acquired knowledge there will never be place for her in the present society. She becomes self-possessed enough that she in a way declares her newly acquired values to Robert, the one who triggered it all in the first place – “I give myself where I choose. ” And this declaration obviously frightens Robert, he isn’t so sure he can deal with such a woman – what he knows and believes in does not equal to this declaration of Edna’s (Baym 716).
He leaves her behind with a simple note: “I love you. Good-by, because I love you. ” (Baym 720). Edna now knows that she can never again be her old, pretentious self. Not with what she has awakened to, and not in this closed and not understanding society. There were no Indian territories for her to take off for, and she therefore decides to do the only thing that would equal to true freedom in her situation – she swims far out into the ocean and to her death (Baym 723).
While the two journeys examined above differed significantly in their outward content, some very similar elements have been observed. In their core, both Huck and Edna discovered things that in their essence were opposed to society, its customs, or its teachings. And, in both cases, they pursued their new knowledge and stuck to what they thought was right and best. Both characters were exceptionally brave, and faced their inner conflicts successfully.