Physical Journeys

Physical Journeys

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A physical journey occurs as a direct result of travelling from one place to another over land, sea or even space. The physical journey can occur individually or collectively, but always involves more than mere movement. Instead physical journeys are accompanied by inner growth and development, catalysed by the experiences and the decisions that impact the outcome of the journey. These journey concepts and the interrelationship between physical and emotional journeys is exemplified in the text; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, the children’s book Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers and the film Stand By Me directed by Rob Reiner.

Mark Twain’s picaresque novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (hereafter Huck Finn) gives a realistic portrayal of Southern life before the American Civil War and depicts the way companionship enables the journeyers to learn from diverse perspectives enriching the journeys power to prompt inner growth and development. This is clearly depicted through the use of first person persona, where Twain employs the uneducated vernacular voice of Huck Finn. This technique contributes to the authenticity of Huck Finn’s Southern characterisation emphasising his transformation from racial prejudice and small mindedness to a more moral and tolerant perspective. Together Huck and Jim embark on their personal quests for freedom; Huck for freedom from “sivilisation” and Jim for freedom from slavery. Together they travel down the river a motif that symbolises their desire for liberation and security. “ I never felt easy till the raft was…out in the middle of the Mississippi…we was free and safe once more”. As they travel they are not merely moving down the river but discovering who they are as they learn and grow along the way.

Throughout the course of the novel, as they travel down the river in search for freedom, Huck’s opinion of Jim changes. Initially Huck feels he should not be helping Jim to freedom and almost turns him into slave catchers. Huck says, “I was paddling off, all in a sweat to tell on him”, the use of the idiom accentuating his over-eagerness to conform to society’s expectations by advocating slavery. Although painfully slowly for the reader Huck eventually recognises Jim’s equality with white men. “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger but I done it, and I warn’t even sorry for it afterward neither.

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This moving appreciation of Jim reflects the journey Huck takes to moral maturity. Although many feel that his sudden switch back in morals when Tom Sawyer returns in the novel trivialises what the protagonist has learnt and that the farcical degradation of Jim robs him of his dignity that he has rightfully attained in the readers eyes. The river that once provided them with a source of liberation and social condemnation now returns them to an environment submerged with hypocrisy and grotesque farce. Huck’s submission, however, is only temporary and he eventually rejects the demands of social conformity and decides to “light” out alone for Jim to be free. Through Huck’s recognition of his friendship with Jim he has in turn been able to grow emotionally through his physical journey.

Similarly the values of friendship and companionship are strongly illustrated in the picture book Lost and Found. Like Huck Finn and the motif of the river connecting the journey, Lost and Found uses the sea to symbolise the journey as the one expanse of water that connects the boy and the penguin. Together the boy and the penguin embark on a physical journey across the ocean to return the penguin home to the Atlantic.

Also similarly to Huck Finn, on their physical journey across the ocean they are faced with numerous challenges that result not only physical but inner growth and development. These are initiated with the rhetorical question “How could he get there? This is emphasised by the scaling of the images with the boy and they penguin portrayed as tiny contrasted to the wide expanse of the ocean. Then the book illustrated an obstacle ahead though the use of colours, the blue used slowly gets darker symbolising the coming of a storm which is further emphasised by the simile “waves as big as mountains”. Through the overcoming of the storm and challenges faced both characters learn not only their physical strength and durability but the value of true friendship as they never give up on each other through the challenges they face. This inner growth and development makes the experience of the storm more important than the journey itself.

Robert Frost’s poem The Road Not Taken deals with a physical journey taken individually. The idea that the persona was alone on the journey and that it was all their own choice is emphasised through the repetition of “I”, “I took”, and “I stood”. The choices the persona makes on the physical journey metaphorically stand for the choices that need to be made in life and the fact that life is a journey. Using the physical journey as a metaphor for life’s journey simplifies a complex abstract notion.

The text exemplifies the fact that travellers must make choices and overcome obstacles in the journey, these choices and experiences being more important than the end result. The persona encounters many obstacles on the journey through the woods. They are initiated by the choice of path and the fact that after the decision has been made. “Way leads on to way”, with the repetition of the word “way” capturing the continuousness of the choices needed to be made. The assumption here is that it is impossible to “come back” as the persona’s journey has evolved directly from the choices made and experiences are not erasable. These experiences catalyse the persona’s inner growth and development. However the low modality of the word “perhaps” recognises that although we may have regrets we can’t change the decision we make.

The final lines show that the speaker has the insight to now comprehend that he made a momentous decision that had significant repercussions in his life. “I took the road less travelled by and that has made all the difference”. Through the journey the persona learns that everyone has choices to make in life and if you live your own life and make your own choices it will be worth your efforts, even if sometimes the other choice had been easier. This also gives the persona insight into the nature of people as they seem to travel together as the path is more “trodden on”. This shows that the persona and the journey progressed and grew from the experiences and obstacles that occurred along the “way” and grew and developed as a character.

The river in Huck Finn, the ocean in Lost and Found and the road in the yellow wood within The Road Not Taken are all pivotal symbols of the physical journey as are the train tracks in Rob Reiner’s film Stand By Me. This collective journey narrated by middle aged Gordie follows four 12 year old boys embarking on an adventure to find a child’s dead body bringing with it fame and fortune or so the characters assume. The audience watched as all four characters grow and mature along the way. Reiner uses Chris, the stereotypical tough kid as an example of how self-discovery can be achieved through a physical journey. In the scene where Chris breaks down he recalls the first time an adult let him down and the audience is exposed to how low his self esteem and hope for the future are because he is “the son of the town drunk”. The lessons that he learns from the obstacles he faces help him to challenge his perspective and in a later scene we see him encourage Gordie to take tougher classes at school by taking them with him. He goes on to become a lawyer later in his life, a future that Chris may never have hoped to achieve had he not undergone this physical journey.

When the boys return from their journey, the voice over narrator states “We had only been gone two days but the town seemed different, somewhat smaller” implying that the characters had grown up. Even though their physical journey had only lasted two days, the emotional impacts of the obstacles they confronted had a lasting impression on these boys and assisted them in shifting from a childish perspective to a more mature outlook on life and the world around them. Further emphasising that physical journeys promote characters to grow.

A physical journey encompasses more than moving from place to place it involves emotional growth as show in the text The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Lost and Found, The Road Not Taken and Stand By Me. All the characters learn something about themselves and their own identity whether it was individually or collectively. Each writer uses a variety of techniques to portray the physical and emotional journeys.
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