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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Emma by Jane Austen, and My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok are three novels that have come to be known as important literary works that share certain similarities in regard to the development of the characters over the course of the story. The three protagonists struggle with different issues that however all relate to their status in their respective society. Emma, Huckleberry Finn and Asher face similar emotional challenges as they grow and mature on a psychological level. In addition to this, the characters are also similar in their position towards their social positions and status within society. For instance, Emma is portrayed as a young, beautiful, smart, rich and widely adored young woman whose many blessings are however the main cause of her flawed character that develops and matures consequential to her interactions with others. Asher Lev is on the other hand from a strict Jewish community; a background that complicates his life as he is not able to find a balance between his love for art and his religious responsibilities. This inner conflict influences his journey towards self-awareness. Huckleberry Finn's life is harsher and more challenging than the previously mentioned characters which makes him grow up to be cynical and suspicious of his society; an attitude that transforms him into both an independent person as well as a social outcast In short, the three novels share many similarities in regard to the growth of the characters. The theme of the protagonists' journey towards self-awareness is especially brought to the foreground through the authors' adoption of specific literary techniques such as characterization and setting.
The understanding of the characters' journey towards self-awareness is enabled through the setting. The setting of Huckleberry Finn is in the South during the period before the abolition of slavery. The protagonist grows to witness the harsh and brutal reality of slavery and the people's reluctance to abandon it nevertheless which impacts his perception of morality and leads him to conclude that his own onions and ethical choices are what really matter. Emma's development is also influenced by her social setting. She is situated in a small town where everybody knows, respects and loves her. She is recognized as an important social figure which initially confined her and led her to rely on her imagination as a way of escaping her reality which explains her love for matchmaking. Matchmaking forced her however to become aware of the significance of her actions and their consequences and opened her eyes to reality. Last, Asher Lev's setting is the most confined of all three. His Hasidic Jewish origins and his position within the upper class of the community place many responsibilities on his shoulders at a time when his love for art leads him to reject and neglect everything around him. This confinement motivates him to move to Paris where he is able to develop and become more perceptive as a result of the newly acquired independence. This is how the setting influences the transformation of the characters in the three novels.
Characterization is another important literary technique used in the three literary works to illuminate the protagonists' independent journey towards maturity. For example, Huckleberry's personality is presented as different from the beginning of the novel:
The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would civilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldnâ€™t stand it no longer I lit out. I got into my old rags and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied. (Twain, 2007, p. 2)
This highlights how the protagonist's thoughts and attitude were different from those of other children from a young age and lead him to grow up to be the independent and secluded man who rejects his society's perception of morality. This does without doubt influence his journey towards self-awareness. Emma's character is on the other hand full of contradictions. She is presented as charming and beautiful yet manages to appear arrogant and selfish at other moments which make her behave superior in regard to some people in her life. This contradiction in her personality is however what leads to her emotional and mental growth as she becomes aware of her shortcomings and attempts to correct them. Last, Asher Lev's character is similar to Emma's in one regard: selfishness. He is presented as a character who is much more concerned with himself than the impact of his actions on others. This creates conflict between him and his family. Asher is not able to come to find a way to balance between his responsibilities and his love for art.(Potok,1972, chapter 6) His flawed character lead s him to make several mistakes that enable him to learn at the end how to balance between his loyalty to his community and his love for artistic expression. This is a sign of emotional growth and development towards self-awareness and is also reflected in his art. It can be therefore concluded that the personal characteristics of Asher and Emma are among the main reasons behind their growth as a result of the conflict they bring about which leads these characters to become more perceptive of their flaws.
In conclusion, it is thus evident that the three characters of Huckleberry Finn, Emma and Asher Lev go through different stages of development as a result of their interactions and perception of their social reality or as a direct consequence of the conflict their personal characteristics bring about in their life and interactions with others. Setting and characterization are thus two important literary devices within the novels of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Emma, and My Name is Asher Lev. They simply enable the reader to grasp the personality and motivations of the three different characters which sheds light on their journey towards self-awareness.