According to Alfred Kazin, “In every great novel of society… what counts is the reality behind the appearance” (Kazin, 1981, 297). In other words, he’s saying that the best books are those that include one or more realities behind appearances. The novel first I chose is called Perfect by Ellen Hopkins. This book has four main characters; Cara, Sean, Kendra, and Andre, who are all teens struggling to fit the ideal of perfection, even if it means hurting and lying to themselves and others. The other novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain tells a story of a runaway slave named Jim and a young boy Huck, running from the dangers of his father. Together they are trying to get to the North but run into many roadblocks. This adventure includes deceit, danger, excitement and most of all, friendship. Both of these novels show reality behind experiences through its actions, dialogs, and the characters themselves! In the following paragraphs, I will compare and explain the reality behind appearances such as friends or family, disguises and secrets in both novels, Perfect and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Jim, a runaway slave from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn shows many realities behind deceiving appearances. An example of a deceiving appearance is when Huck and the duke paint Jim all blue and dressed him up in King Lear’s outfit before leaving to town. Huck doesn’t want to risk Jim being taken away and sold back into slavery so they disguise him as a “sick arab-but harmless when not out of his head” (Twain 157) so that he won’t have to uncomfortably lay tied up in the wigwam all day. The reality behind this disguise is that Jim is a kind and harmless runaway slave. After a tiring adventure, Jim talks to Huck about his family. When telling stories to Huck, he reveals a reality behind a deceiving appearance about his daughter Elizabeth.
When Jim’s daughter was young, she got very sick. When she was better, Jim had told her to shut the door but she just stood there smiling at him. He repeated himself and again, she just smiled at him. Thinking that she was being naughty and a rebel, he smacked her across the head as a punishment. When he slams the door shut and she doesn’t budge, wince, or make any notice of it, Jim realizes “Oh, she was plumb deef en dumb, Huck, plumb deef en dumb” (Twain 156). The biggest and most important reality behind a deceiving appearance is that along this adventure, Jim was freed from slavery. After all the trouble Tom put him through, Tom finally fesses that Jim was free because “Old Miss Watson died two months ago, and she was so ashamed she ever was going to sell him down the river, and said so; and she set him free in her will” (Twain 289).
The duke and the king from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are very mischievous people. They are full with illusions, lies, and intelligence. The first reality behind appearance Huck saw is their names. On the day they first meet, both men claim they were a king and a duke in order to receive pity and to be spoiled by Jim and Huck. While Huck sees through this appearance, Jim does not. Later on in the story, the king cons the people of a religious camp in order to get some money. He pretends to be a pirate who changed his ways after he was robbed and now is working his way back to the ocean in order to change all pirates. He gives credit to the people of the town to earn their pity and succeeds. “‘Don’t you thank me, don’t you give me no credit; it all belongs to them dear people in Pokeville camp-meeting, natural brothers and benefactors of the race, and that dear preacher there, the truest friend a pirate ever had’” (Twain 132).
The reality behind the king’s appearance is that it was all an act and that he is just a cheater. Even after this silly event, the king and the duke are still greedy for more. When they find out that a man who has a lot of money for a relative has died, they head towards the town. There, they pretended to be the uncle of three girls who are very sweet and innocent. Eventually, the actual heirs to the money show up and start to expose the duke and the king. They have a more authentic english accent and state that the handwritings when compared to an old letter aren’t the same.
In my novel, Perfect by Ellen Hopkins, there are four main characters struggling to fit an ideal of perfection. One of the main characters is named Kendra. Kendra is a senior in high school and everything you would want to be. She’s popular, on the cheer team, rich, and most of all, skinny. Kendra’s obsession with perfection comes with dangerous consequences as she is willing to do anything to achieve it. The most deceiving illusion when it comes to Kendra is her appearance itself. Kendra has gone through many plastic surgeries to look as she is now. With a rhinoplasty already scheduled, she is also hoping to get a boob job which her stepfather refuses to allow. Along with the plastic surgery, in order to lose weight, Kendra eats as little as possible. Kendra believes she is fat, being 5’ 10” and 122 pounds. Though everyone tells her she’s not, she states that the “stinking mirror doesn’t lie. Everytime I walk by, it shouts out, ‘Hey. Chub. When are you going to lose those fifteen pounds of ugly-ass flab? Do you want to stay size four forever?’” (Hopkins, 23). The reality behind Kendra’s illusion is that she’s already beautiful and dangerously skinny. With every calorie she doesn’t eat, she inches closer and closer to death.
One of the reasons why she believes that she’s not beautiful is because her boyfriend Conner left her. She believed he left her because she wasn’t good and pretty enough. The thought of this tortures her because Conner was her first love, the first person whom she gave her heart and soul to. She later finds out that Conner is in the hospital because of an accident. The reality is that Conner didn’t get into an accident, he tried killing himself and he didn’t leave her because he thought she was ugly. He left her because he had fallen in love with someone else. When Kendra leaves her beauty agent for Xavier, she begins to work with a man named Gilles. Xavier tells Kendra that Gilles is one of the “biggies” and that she needs keep him happy. “I have to keep Gilles happy. He likes the way I look. Especially naked” (Hopkins 496). Gilles and Xavier claim that they love her but in all honesty, they are taking advantage of her. If they really did love her as she is, they wouldn’t abuse her body with pills, sex and surgeries. The appearance of Gilles loving her for her style and determination masks the reality that in order to do business, she must trade it with her service to him.
Another character who has a deceiving appearance in the novel Perfect is a girl named Cara. Cara, like Kendra is also on the cheer team, beautiful, rich, has good grades and a wonderful sexy boyfriend but is she really all the things people make her out to be? Cara has a secret, one that could ruin her reputation; She’s a lesbian. Her boyfriend Sean is just an appearance. An appearance to make her seem straight when in reality, she’s a lesbian. When Sean finds out about her secret after they break up, he exposes her by taking a photo of Cara and her lover making love and sharing it to all of her “friends”. After this incident, all of Cara’s friends leave her and began calling her cruel names such as slut and dyke. “I can’t believe Cara broke up with Sean. Neither can half the senior class… They’re chopping her into little pieces: …is a slut anyway, …always was full of it, …serious commitment issues” (Hopkins 306). The comfort and companionship of her friends was all an appearance in which the reality was just to use Cara for their own benefit. Because of this incident, Cara finally decides to tell her parents.
“‘Dani said I should press charges…’ Mom’s eyes grew steadily more severe. ‘I think it’s best to let it drop. If this becomes public knowledge, the media will smear it all over the headlines. Our reputation will be ruined. Bad enough we had to deal with all the flak about Conner.’ She straightened her blouse, as if it had been wrinkled by the very idea of her children disgracing her name” (Hopkins 535). The definition of parents is a mother and a father and that’s exactly what Cara’s parents are. A mother and father, nothing more. Though they do provide Cara with materialistic needs, it is all for her mother’s reputation. Her heartless parents with their high expectations are so extreme that it causes her twin brother Conner to kill himself. The idea of loving and supportive parents is just an appearance that the Sykes family create when the cold truth is that they don’t hold any familial bonds with each other.
In the preceding paragraphs, I have compared and explained the realities behind appearances in both novels, Perfect and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. As Alfred Kazin was saying, realities behind deceiving appearances make a book more interesting to read. It also makes the readers realize that there are many illusions in our daily lives. Through the characters, we can perhaps learn a lesson on how to act, spot, and deal with these realities behind appearances.