Tag Archives: comparisons

WEMever the Twain Shall Meet

Despite what Samuel Clemens implies about the usefulness of a well-read education, I’m inclined to believe he followed a curriculum very similar to ours.  Just look at all of the places that there are parallels between The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the rest of our reading list:

Don Quixote

  • Tom mentions reading the first of all novels, and even suggests acting it out.
  • The self-appointed Duke and King reminded me of our self-appointed knight errant.
  • Huck and Jim are on quite a quest, with a fairly foggy future outcome.  I found myself often asking, “Where are they going with this,” just as I did inDQ.
  • Tom sets out in the most complicated fashion to help someone who didn’t need his help.  Let’s just face it, Tom is Don Quixote.

Pilgrim’s Progress

  • Slough.  Not of Despond, but I know I read about one, although I’ve lost the page number.
  • The Grandersons, for all their good Christian living, have a copy of this moral tale on the coffee table.  I don’t remember Bunyan having characters named Family Feud and Kill Thy Neighbor, but maybe I just missed a page.

Gulliver’s Travels

  • Can you say “satire?”

Oliver Twist

  • We haven’t encountered a story about a young boy since Oliver.  As a mother with four of her own, it was nice to get back into familiar territory.
  • Did anyone else think the plot tied up a little too miraculously at the end.? Huck just happens to stumble on the Phelps farm when they are expecting his best friend’s arrival?  Miss Watson just happens to die and free Jim?

Moby Dick

  • Water plays anhe important role of water in the lives of the characters.  The river is practically a character itself.
  • Superstitions abound in both situations.
  • Both authors tackled slavery in an indirect manner.
  • At the very end their is a character named Brother Mapple, which seemed just too close to Father Marple for me.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

  • Slavery
  • Okay, I can be more specific.  Both use male slaves as the moral centers of their works.

Crime and Punishment

  • Huck’s internal struggles between right and wrong, action and inaction, and societal norms and the pull of his heart reminded me of the time we spent inside Raskolnikov’s brain.

The Return of the Native

  • The Mississippi River seems to be the kinder, gentler, yet still important younger cousin of Egdon Heath.

Did I miss any?  Are there any references to P&P, JE, SL, MB, AK, or POAL?


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Garden of Egdon

Garden of Eden by Thomas Cole

Remember way back when when I threw out that little line about Egdon being a pretty similar word to Eden?  It’s okay, it was a long time ago, and was only a teensy sentence in a post about something seemingly different.  It’s right here, if you’d like to refresh your memory.

Anyway, all of that was before I got to this quote:

But here, away from comparisons, shut in by the stable hills, amoung which mere walking had the novelty of pageantry, and where any man could imagine himself to be Adam without the least difficulty, . . .

Am I on to something?



Posted by on January 10, 2013 in The Return of the Native


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Don Quixote, Christian, and Ishmael Walk Onto a Boat

About ten months ago Jeannette, Christine, and I were sitting in Panera having our first ever official book outing.  We were at the midway point of Don Quixote, and more than a little perplexed about what exactly we were supposed to be learning from reading the adventures of this crazed knight errant.

Then an “Aha!” moment struck.  Maybe it wasn’t just about DQ.  In fact, maybe we just needed to lay DQ as our foundation, and then later we would be able to come back to him and say, in our best snooty, overly-educated tones, “Ah, yes.  Well, if you compare this author’s approach to that of Cervantes you will plainly see that . . .”It seemed like a long shot, but at the time it was all we had, because as mothers we’d already dealt with our share of potty language, imaginary giants, and cardboard costumes.  We were looking for something more.

Well folks, it’s been happening, have you noticed?  Our authors are talking about each other, referring to other classics, building upon the past, and none more than Melville.  Here’s the end of Chapter 26:

Bear me out in it, thou great democratic God!  who didst not refuse to the swart convict, Bunyan, the pale, poetic pearl; Thou who didst clothe with doubly hammered leaves of finest gold, the stumped and paupered arm of old Cervantes; Thou who didst pick up Andrew Jackson from the pebbles; . . .

Okay, I’ll stop there, because I don’t know anything about Andrew Jackson.  But, Bunyan and Cervantes?  Those are our guys!

It seems that Melville has switched in this chapter from first person narrative by Ishmael, to an omnipotent author who gives us not only backgrounds on multiple characters, but also his own philosophical statements.
Here we get a little peak into Melville’s life as a writer.  This plea to a “democratic God” is for himself, that he may be given the ability to produce a culture shifting story, the likes of Don Quixote or Pilgrim’s Progress. Melville, a mere 30-something American is hoping to create characters that begin as the every-man and end as the men every man remembers.

Then again, maybe this is Ishmael’s voice begging the “Spirit of Equality” to make him, and the motley crew of the Pequod heroes in their own right – to elevate the common with a chivalrous pilgrimage toward the destruction of evil.

I don’t know, it seems my own snooty voice is rather indecisive about this whole mess.  Please weigh in with your own.


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HP vs. BVM

What's behind that chubby little baby hand?

It’s quite a match-up, don’t you think?  Hester Prynne versus the Blessed Virgin Mary.

And at first glance one would think that the Mother of God has this competition sewn up, but then again, Hester knows her way around a needle, so we should probably examine this head-to-head more closely.

In Chapter II Hawthorne starts the comparison for us.  His intent, of course, is a study in contrasts.  While both women stand seemingly alone with their children clutched to their bosoms, one is radiant with the purity she carries in her arms and the other bares both the child and mark of iniquity.

Despite these stark differences, the parallels between the young women are also worthy of a look.

  • We know that Mary, like Hester, was a sinner, hence her need to sing that her “spirit rejoices in God, [her] Savior.”
  • Despite Mary’s virgin status, her pregnancy probably brought on a fair amount of public shame.  She and Hester both stood tall, and quiet against their tormentors.
  • Both women were spared a more severe treatment for their role as an unwed mother.  Joseph could have left his betrothed wife, and the Puritans could have hanged Hester for her adulterous actions.
  • Both Pearl and Jesus are considered to have fathers not of this world.  And although we know this is untrue for Pearl, her “unearthly” father is a common topic for both the town’s discussion, and her own.
  • Post-shame, -child, and -embroidered A, Hester leads a life as a celibate servant of her neighbors.  In Chapter XIII we even learn that some men sometimes thought, “the scarlet letter had the effect of the cross on a nun’s bosom.”  While the jury is still out on Mary’s virginity (I will not be partaking in any discussion about the topic here, so save those comments for some other blog) she is revered with this same saintly view.
  • Both women are blessed with children that give them much to ponder in their hearts.  Every irregular action and word is cause for pause.  But then again, maybe that is the plight of every mother.

Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be saying a “Hail, Hester” any time soon, but for that matter I’ve never been known to say a “Hail, Mary,” either.  It is an interesting literary connection that Hawthorne opens up for discussion, though.  So, are there others?


Posted by on March 1, 2012 in The Scarlet Letter


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