Will you be my Friend?

September 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

Have you ever read the children’s story about the Emperor who gets tricked into paying bags of money, for “invisible” clothes?  He tells all the towns people that only the best of the best can see them, and to the rest they are invisible, only one young child is willing to tell the truth and the rest of the town realizes the Emperor is indeed, not wearing any clothes.

I think there is something to be learned from this story.  Children are frank, which makes them wise.  As a child you know who is your friend and who is your enemy, probably because you went up to them on the first day of school and asked “Will you be my best friend?” And that was that.

This decision, to many adults, seems impulsive and foolish.  It can not be deep enough to really matter.  But take a second to look at that friend you had at age 3.  How well did they know you? How much time did you spend together?  What did you talk about? For a lot of people these childhood friendships ran deeper than many they have today.  Moreover those friendships were clear cut, defined.  No matter who you were rich, poor, black, white, yellow, red, Japanese, Korean, German, Jewish, Christian, fanatic atheist or any combination you were friends 100%.  That’s what you pinkie swore the first day, and that’s how things were.

Many would call these arbitrary friendships naive.  What if that “friend” was homeless?  What if they were the son of a drunkard? And maybe there is some sense of naivete there but I think it’s better that way.  Matthew makes a good point that children can move mountains, without even knowing it.  They make friends across social classes, across race lines.  But is it really accidental? I think children make those connections on purpose.  These connections are their way of reaching the unknown; of experiencing for themselves the idea of the “Great Frontier.” Children are connected to those who have different stories to tell, different games to play, different imaginations to create. In their frank, clear manner they are able to experience the frontier and connect with it (and each other) in ways many adults cannot.

In the famous novel Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain Tom, the main character, befriends the outcast son of a drunkard by the name of Huck Finn.  Tom is aware of Huck’s lower level in society but he does not judge the son as many of the adults in his society do.  Instead he befriends the young boy and learns as much as he can from him.  Together they visit the graveyard, and Jackson’s island, playing pirate on a homemade raft, they smoke, and discover riches.  They explore the unknown frontier of both the world around them, and the others’ position in life. I think that children are often very aware of what they are doing, what boundaries they are crossing, however this brings them a heightened ability to connect with the world.

The story of a Boy, and the world that changes him

August 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

As the sun shines through the windows on the first day of class, who could could stop their mind from wandering.  Wouldn’t it be nice to escape into the very book that the class is currently slaving over?

It is, of course, none other than the boyish Mark Twain novel, Tom Sawyer.   It seems nice enough.  A young, crafty boy whose life is full of wilderness, and adventure.  I wonder if the author himself ever felt that way.

Mark Twain grew up in Missouri, which was then the great frontier.  It was literally the border between the colonized society, and the uncharted wilderness.  As he grew, however, so did the country, charted, colonizing, and industrializing much of the natural setting.   Twain hoped back in forth from city to country and, as can be seen in his biography, from job to job.  This makes him uniquely qualified to critic both, and he seems to have reached a decision:

“Nature knows no indecencies; man invents them.”

Twain has many quotes about nature, all of which follow the general theme that men (or mankind) taints it.   This incredible faith in nature, and in animals, is not completely his own, however.  Twain’s mother, Jane Lampton Clemens, is said to have passed her love of animals on to him, according to his biographer Edward Wagenknecht.  She used to feed all the stray cats in the neighborhood, however she could keep no birds because “she could not endure to think of any creature deprived of its freedom.” (click here for full text).  It is clear that Twain grew up, inspired by this love of animals, and of the wild.  He gravitated towards his mother’s care, and away from his father’s puritanical, stern treatment.  He holds nature and animals most dear to his heart, loving most the jobs in which he could live amongst it, such as his bout as a pilot on the great, flowing Mississippi river.  For him nature has the home he never had, bouncing around form place to place, hoping not to get stuck on his father’s bad side. He says of his fellow humans “Man is the only animal that blushes. He is the only one that does if and has occasion to.”  Twain clearly sees himself as an animal, as part of nature, though society tries to rise above it.  Maybe Tom Sawyer uses nature to escape because Twain always wished he could.

The world of Cardiff Hill and Twainville begin to collide as young man’s attempt to teach his generation a lesson.  He says of the book:

“In writing Tom Sawyer I had no idea of laying down rules for the bringing up of small families, but merely to throw out hints as to how they might bring themselves up, and the boys seemed to have caught the idea nicely.”   – Mark Twain Speech in 1893.

It seems that to Twain, as well as to many others, the world of Tom Sawyer is fascinating, inspiring, and almost idyllic.  It is a world in which the wild of nature is always available, and yet the controlled is present, and safe.  To Twain, it is how every young boy should grow up.

The Nature of Imagination

August 29, 2010 § 8 Comments

In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, nature seems to be the protagonists mind come to life.   It is the place in which Tom seems the most comfortable, and the one he understands the best.  It is to the dense trees of Cardiff hill that he escapes when he is upset, or in need of freedom.  Tom’s use of nature to project his emotions is evident, primarily, throughout chapter 8.

It begins with Tom darting here and there to escape the heartbreak he has just received from young Becky Tatcher.  Here we see nature literally taking on Tom’s emotions.  The silence, as well as the hot humid air mirror the young boy’s dejection.  The narrator even claims “The boy’s soul was steeped in melancholy; his feelings were in happy accord with his surroundings.” (pg. 60)  Tom perceives the nature around him through his own eyes, projecting his isolation onto the world around him.  This is, however, the story of a young boy and his emotions change very rapidly.   We see the forest become a place for Tom’s imagination to grow, and take hold on the real world.

His superstition is the first to become apparent.  He utters incantations as he digs in the ground, and when they do not work he concludes it must be witches in the trees around him.  The bugs running in the sand confirm his suspicions, showing they are, as well, a part of the nature around him. (pg. 62) Along with the stray dogs on page 77 (which Tom believes to signify death) this shows that animals living in the wild are indeed part of nature.  To Tom they are all important as they hold a part in his superstitions.

The trees around him develop yet again  into Sherwood forest. Tom has all he needs hidden among the forest.  His horn, his sword, and his marbles, are all there.  It is the last evidence from this section that Tom feels most at home in nature.  There his imagination, his emotions, are projected without the restrictions or dangers of society.  It is in nature that the real world, and his imagination genuinely mesh together.

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