Protagonists and Personal Growth Thesis

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¶ … Protagonists and Personal Growth

The growth of self-awareness in adolescence and early adulthood is common subject matter for novels. Mark Twain's the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, My Name I Asher Lev by Chaim Potok, and Jane Austen's Emma all deal with this topic using protagonists of various ages and vastly different circumstances. Huckleberry is right in the middle of adolescence during he novel, working to make sense of himself and the world he inhabits while floating down the Mississippi with an escaped slave. Asher Lev is the youngest of these three when Potok's novel opens, and his journey takes him into early adulthood and complete independence. Emma is a wealthy young woman who is to busy invading other people's affairs to notice and tend to her own problems, a situation which she gradually encounters and, with help, surmounts. Despite their differences, these novels all deal with characters encountering themselves and growing from the experience. Similar literary elements are used by the three novelists to signal this growth. Narration, characterization, and plot are three of the most effective ways these authors signal the protagonist's growing self-awareness.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Thesis on Protagonists and Personal Growth the Growth of Assignment

Though the styles of narration in the three novels are vastly different, each gives the reader unique insight into the mind of the character. Huckleberry Finn and Asher Lev are both written in the first person; our tile character is also our narrator. This adds an element of mistrust to the reader's sense of the story; the text only contains the necessarily biased and incomplete observations of two child/teenagers. Huck's observations have much tongue-in-cheek humor for the reader, but Huck himself doesn't often appreciate his own jokes -- he is usually quite sincere. Complaining about being "sivilized," he tells the reader about his guardian, the widow: "The widow she cried over me, and called me a poor lost lamb, and she called me a lot of other names, too, but she never meant no harm by it" (Twain, 1884, 2). From this personal explanation, it appears as though Huck can't tell the difference between affection and insult, equating "poor lost lamb" with other "harmful" names. He is unaware of his place in society, and can't decide how he feels about "sivilization," either, running away several times. In Asher Lev, the narrator is supposedly an adult at the time of telling, but six when the story begins. This adds a layer of complexity to the first-person narration; what the reader receives is an adult interpretation of childhood observations. This implies growth in-and-of itself, yet even more effective is the change in these observations. From finding "a pencil drawing, a photographic likeness of my face made with an exquisite economy of line and without light and shade" to "Away from my world, alone in an apartment that offered me neither memories nor roots, I began to find old and distant memories of my own, long buried by pain and time and slowly brought to the surface now," Asher shows a clear progression -- and even a conscious awareness of that progression -- in his understanding of himself and his art (Potok, 1972, 183 & 302). Emma's self-awareness is a little slower in coming. This novel is narrated in the third person, yet the only thoughts the reader is truly privileged to are Emma's. This coyness on the part of Austen forces the narration to be concerned with other people only insofar as they can be related to Emma, but with a false sense of objectivity -- much as Emma view her own world. By the end pf the novel, the narrator and the protagonist have grown kinder and more astute, when it is noted that Harriet "would be placed in the midst of those who loved her, and who had better sense than herself; retired enough for safety, and occupied enough for cheerfulness" (Austen, 1815, 395). First or third person, the narrators of these stories reflect the main characters, by definition in Huck Finn and Asher Lev, and by brilliant design in Emma.

The other characters in these novels also add to the sense of the protagonist's personal growth. Huck's encounters with authority figures are a prime example of this. There is, of course, the overall arc of his attitude towards the widow and other "sivilizers" -- at the end of the novel, Huck "reckon[s] I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before" (Twain, 1885, 405). Though he still plans to leave the problems of civilization behind, his comment that he had "been there before" means a great deal at the end of his epic journey. This is a wiser Huck who knows what it is he is turning down, but it is only through the efforts of other characters that this is brought to light. The same is true in Asher Lev, when Asher finally leaves his parents and his community at the end of the novel. Earlier, when his mother presented him with a book that said an artist needed to be free from traditional influences, he does not fully agree. Eventually, both he and Huck acknowledge that their own way lies somewhere beyond the boundaries of the people they grew up with -- the reader sees a conscious decision to step away from characters that represent authority. Emma's journey is the opposite, she starts the novel claiming that she will most likely never marry, believing that "a single woman, of good fortune, is always respectable, and may be as sensible and pleasant as any body else" (Austen, 1815, 73). By the end of the novel, of course, she is married to Mr. Knightley and tremendously happy. As she grew to know herself more fully, she also was able to realize her feelings for Knightley. The growth of her relationships is an extension of her growth of self-awareness, and a signal to the reader that this self-awareness exists at the end where it did not in the beginning.

All three of these stories are thick with plot, and whether that plot is fueled mainly by gossiping, rafting, or artwork it has a significant effect on the reader's perception of the protagonist. Huck gets into one scrape after another floating down the Mississippi, and each one casts some doubt on his preconceived notions. At the beginning, things happen to Huck, and he goes with the tide. But after enough things happen to him, he forms a clear idea of what he's doing, telling Tom "there's a nigger here that I'm a-trying to steal out of slavery, and his name is Jim -- old Miss Watson's Jim'" (Twain, 1885, 313). It is repeated encounters with the ills of society -- that is, the novel's plot -- which ultimately convinces Huck of the right course. Convincing Asher Lev is more painful, but equally effective. Through a series of circumstances, mostly instigated by the Rebbe, Asher goes through a step-by-step separation from his parents. His father travels for the Rebbe throughout the novel, always distant from Asher. His mother has an incapacitating illness, then gets better, but eventually moves to Europe with Asher's father, leaving him with an Uncle.

Asher's illness, too, separates them in Vienna, and eventually his life in art drives final wedge between his art and their religion. Interestingly, he acknowledges this at the beginning of the novel, setting up the tension for the central conflict: "I am an observant Jew. Yes, of course observant Jews do not paint crucifixions" (Potok, 1972, 3). The opening lines of Emma set the novel up in an equally compelling way, though the method and effect differ greatly: "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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