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Escape: A Comparison between Huck and the narrator of “Sonny’s Blues”

Both the narrator in Sonnys Blues by James Baldwin and Huck in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain feel the urge to escape from their reality as a means of attaining happiness and finding their way in life. However, their reasons for escaping are completely different and so are the ways in which they manage to do so. The aim of this essay is, therefore, to discuss the how and why the Narrator in Sonnys Blues and Huck escape. We will start by briefly looking into both characters backgrounds in order to be able to understand the reasons and circumstances that led them to escape.

First, it is worth mentioning that while Sonnys Blues takes place in New York in the mid 20th century, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is mostly set in the Mississippi River (as it runs deep into the south) before the American Civil War in the mid 19th century. Despite the fact that the Narrator in Sonnys Blues and Huck belong to different places and times, both societies in which they live are plagued with discrimination against black people who are regarded as second class citizens having to endure violence and injustices from the white community .

Both characters belong to low social class families. However, the Narrator in Sonnys blues is a black middle aged, well educated man who has a family whereas Huck is a white child of about 12 years of age who is uneducated and does not have a family. Pap, the village drunkard and Hucks only blood bond, is an absent parent who only comes back to town when he learns that his son has become rich. Given a short account of their social backgrounds, it is not surprising that they be driven by different urges to escape the situation in which they are.

On the one hand, the Narrator in Sonnys Blues is evidently trying to escape the black peoples burden which is illustrated in the following excerpt: So we drove along [… ] killing streets of our childhood. These streets hadnt changed, though a housing project jutted up out of them now like rocks in the middle of a boiling sea. Most of the houses in which we had grown up had vanished, as had the stores from which we had stolen, the basements in which we had first tried sex, the rooftops from which we had hurled tin cans and bricks .

He does so by neglecting his identity, that is to say, his roots, and clinging to the white communitys conventions and lifestyle. However, he seems unaware of the fact that what he is escaping from, is his identity rather than a mere place or situation. He says: It might be said, perhaps, that I had escaped after all, I was a school teacher… In fact, he not only escapes by becoming a school teacher but he also does so by identifying himself with classical music, which seems to him the only acceptable type, even to the extent of ignoring completely, for example , who Charlie Parker, father of the modern jazz style, is.

Huck Finn, on the other hand, rejecting being civilized by widow Douglas and running away from his persecuting father, escapes with his companion Jim , a runaway slave, and makes a long and frequently interrupted voyage floating down the Mississippi River on a raft. During the journey Huck meets and comes to know members of greatly varied groups of society. As he learns about human hypocrisy and cruelty he realizes that he would rather live on the raft, where everything is simpler, clearer and where he does not feel constrained.

He goes: We said there warnt no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft dont. You feel mighty and free and easy and comfortable on a raft. In this excerpt we can notice that, in contrast to the Narrator in Sonnys Blues, Hucks decision to escape is, apparently, a conscious one. The more he learns about humanity, the more he likes his raft. By choosing the place where he wants to live and the way in which he wants to do so, he starts forging his identity rather than neglecting it as the Narrator in Sonnys Blues does.

In the end Huck and the Narrator adopt a different attitude towards the issue of escape. The Narrator realizes that he has been escaping to evade his lot, rather than because he really identifies with the white community, and decides to face who he is and where he belongs in. Huck, however, being fully aware of his decision of escaping, makes up his mind completely and embarks on his journey westward, breaking away completely with a society where, he feels, he does not fit in.

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