Huck Finn: Antebellum South Essay

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Adam Ouriel Mr. Whitehead AP Language and Composition 03 March 2008 The Folly of the Cult of Honor The antebellum American South had a very distinctive culture: one tied heavily to slavery and hospitality. Above all, perhaps, white southern males adopted an elaborate code of chivalry, which obligated them to defend their “honor,” often through dueling – which survived in the South long after it had largely vanished in the North. Southern white males placed enormous stock in conventional forms of courtesy and respect in their dealings with one another – perhaps as a way of distancing themselves from the cruelty and disrespect that were so fundamental to the slave system they controlled. Violations of such forms often brought what seemed to outsiders a disproportionately heated and even violent response. The idea of honor in the South was only partly connected to the idea of ethics and bravery. It was also tied to the importance among white males of the public appearance of dignity and authority – of saving face in the presence of others. Anything that seemed to challenge the dignity, social station, or “manhood” of a white southern male might be the occasion for a challenge to duel, or at least for a stern public rebuke. When the South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks strolled into the Chamber of the United States Senate and savagely beat Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts with a cane to retaliate for what he considered an insult to a relative, he was acting wholly in accord with the idea of southern honor (Brinkley 303)*. In the North, he was reviled as a savage. In the South, he became a popular hero. But Brooks was only the most public example of a code of behavior that many white southern men followed. In his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain makes grand hyperboles in order to satirize certain aspects of antebellum southern
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