Albee and Twain: Demystifying an American Dream
“What Happens to a dream differed? / Does it dry up /
like a raisin in the sun / Or fester like a sore- / etc. And then run? / Does it stink like rotten meat? /
Or crust with sugar over- / like a syrupy sweet? / Maybe it just sags / like a heavy load / Or does it explode?”
-------- Langston Hughes
American Dream was a term that first appeared in James Truslow Adams’s The Epic of America, where he states The American Dream is "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position” (Adams, 1931) It is this land; Twain throws Huck and Jim to endure the hardships of life, to experience the thrown-Inness of being born into the world unprepared, without choice. Long considered as a “quest for freedom”, Huck-Finn essentially is as M. Cox puts it “a flight from tyranny, not a flight for freedom” (Cox, p172-173, 1966). Freedom is essentially a relative term, and freedom may manifest itself in physical and psychological realms. Half of the world still considers itself honored under the nomenclature of “The Commonwealth”, illustrates the limitation of physical freedom alone. One dreams in order to maintain that freedom, but as Schumacher put it, “The greatest deprivation anyone can suffers is to have no chance of looking after himself and making a livelihood”, depriving one of one’s existence and consciousness of being free. (Kumar, p2672, 1991).
Being a Post-American Dream novel, Twain did not go to the extent to overthrow the entire socio-political system to emphasize the impossibility and superficiality of American dream. Europeans found the dark lands flourishing with immense economical and religious opportunities. The idea was perhaps that opportunities could not be isolated to lands, and certainly these “islands” cannot claim to provide equality and recognition to people of all races and creed, when its own socio-political apparatus is plagued with racism and lack of consciousness. With Huck and Jim, the racial discrimination prevalent in America was laid bare. Twain does not talk about conscience as a mode of judgment of human actions; rather he infused the transcendental viewpoint of intuition and innate human instincts as the basis of making choices. Conscience, which are essentially derived from society, the learned distinction between good and bad, contrary to black and white, are merely “false constraints upon natural behavior. Such constraint is what Huck rejects” (Burg, p303, 1974), something which is apparent when Huck says “always do whichever [right or wrong] come handiest at the time”. There can be no geographical location which can encompass this distinctness of human quality, to change with time as the instincts indicate may be not dictated or etched in law, and no moral order of society could circumscribe the complexity and vastness of intuition. We must not expect Twain to propound any moralistic view regarding the confrontation of races in Huck-Finn.
Although set in the past, the novel peeps into the future and without dealing with complexities of master-slave psychodynamics, interprets the nature of ‘freedom’, something which seems to suggest that psychological freedom is hard to achieve in a night with such thing as an ‘Emancipation Proclamation’. If organizations like “Afro–American Unity”, “Society of African Culture” and resistance fronts like “Operation Breadbasket” and “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” were all prevalent during even the late 1960s, suggesting the fact that the whole concept of American dream was unacceptable to most of...
References: Adams, James, Truslow, The Epic of America, Simon Publications, 2001.
Adler, Franz, The Social Thought of Jean-Paul Sartre, The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 55, No. 3 (Nov., 1949), The University of Chicago Press.
Albee, Edward, The American Dream, Coward-McCann, Inc., New York, 1961.
Burg, David, F., Another View of Huckleberry Finn, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 29, No. 3, University of California Press, 1974.
Cox, James, M., Mark Twain, The Fate of Humour, Princeton University Press, 1966
Johnson, The Vanity of Human Wishes, edited by Harriet Raghunathan, Worldview Publications, 2004, New Delhi.
Noble, David, W., Historians Against History, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, 1965.
Osborne, John, Look Back in Anger, edited by Neeraj Malik, Worldview Publications, 2002, New Delhi.
Schumacher, E. F., Dilemmas of Measuring Human Freedom, Kumar, K, G, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 26, No. 47, Economic and Political Weekly, 1991.
Zangrando, Schneider, Joanna, Zangrando, L. Robert, Black Protest: A Rejection of the American Dream, Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2, Sage Publications, Inc., 1970.
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