Wednesday, December 9, 2015

United States of Tom

In 2016, we all hopefully know that it is inappropriate to generalize an entire group of people, who only have a few things in common, under one category. Knowing this, however, we can analyze the United States as it is viewed as a whole, through media and varying stereotypes, to condemn it as a United States of Tom.

All readers of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn know it is much preferable to be classified as a Huck than a Tom; the two boys are foil characters that seem to represent reason and ignorance. The United States strives to be a nation of Huck in its principles, but deviates towards a nation of Tom due to various forces. One may cite the fact that abortion or gun control is even an issue as evidence of the United States' Tom-ness, but that just seems like one is criticizing an entire ideology and declaring theirs superior. This fact is why we are a United States of Tom: Americans are so intolerant of different ideas that in Chicago, calling someone a Republican is an insult, and somewhere in the South, being a liberal can be synonymous with "heretic."

Saunders distinguishes between the American Psyches by writing, "Whereas Tom knows, Huck wonders. Whereas Huck hopes, Tom presumes. Whereas Huck cares, Tom denies." My interpretation of the characterization of Tom and how it pertains to American culture is how we, as a nation, give labels to everyone that "define" their entire being (gay, Muslim, liberal, conservative, Southern, Northern, feminist, pro-life, pro-choice) and then we make these huge assumptions about things that do not have anything to do with these labels (terrorist, rapist, sexist, racist, pervert).

In addition, Americans are so set on their own labels, we ostracize ourselves from associating with anyone outside of our group. The polarization of politics is the most prominent example of this American phenomenon; the animosity between Democrats and Republicans is no longer political, but social. The Tom-like presumption of someone's personality, goals or desires just based on if they are a Republican or Democrat proves that the United States of Tom does exist.

Nevertheless, making a one-sided argument does not give the United States enough credit as a nation. Our country was founded on principles of rights and equality before law that were not fully implemented in 1787 and sometimes not enforced today. Our fear of "outsiders" throughout history has come in bouts of paranoia, like with the KKK, the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans and the fear of communism, but there is always a Huck-like counter-reaction. As Saunders stated, the United States of Huck and the United States of Tom are always in conflict but, unfortunately, Tom is winning.

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