Huck Finn v. Player Piano-Protagonist

Academic, Literary Analysis

Dunlap High School

Instructor: Chris Friedman

Huck Finn v. Player Piano-Protagonist

            If one is asked how an intelligent adult is different form an uneducated orphan, he/she is most likely to find a vast number of differences really easily.  Finding similarities between them might be a little more complicated.  The protagonist, or the main character, of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an uneducated orphan, whereas the protagonist of Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano is man with his Doctorate Degree.  Contrasts between them are easy to find, but case is not true for comparisons.  However one can still find some similarities between these characters knowing that they are both trying to understand life and the society, while at the same time, a number of contrasts can also be pointed out based upon who they are and their thought process

Dr. Paul Proteus in Player Piano, like Huckleberry in The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, is searching for an answer to the question of life and the world.  Dr. Paul Proteus is a dynamic character who is questioning about the setting at which the novel takes place.  He is questioning the setting that is in the future in which machines are now responsible for the jobs which human beings once had done because of the extremely good outcome in the economy.  Near the beginning of the novel, Paul is perfectly okay with the system of machines controlling most jobs and professions.  He states:  “Machines were doing America’s work far better than Americans had ever done it.  There were better goods for more people at less cost, and who could deny that that was magnificent and gratifying?”  As the novel moved on, Paul gets to know the average citizens who loose jobs because of the more effective machines; he learns that even though the people are not suffering any financial problems, they are bored of not having any jobs and having nothing else to do.  But what Paul is inspired by the most is that the average citizens are unlike Paul and the other engineers who are constantly busy developing machines and trying to make the world a “better” place.  These normal people look at life from a different point of view; they make life simple and view the humanity the way people use to in the “past”.

the feeling of fresh, strong identity growing within him.  It was a generalized love—particularly for the little people, the common people, God bless them.  All his life they had been hidden from him by the walls of his ivory tower.  Now, this night, he had come among them, shared their hopes and disappointments, understood their yearnings, discovered the beauty of their earthly values.  This was real…Paul loved these common people, and wanted to help, and let them know they were loved and understood, and he wanted them to love him too.


As Paul encounters these people he realizes the problem they are facing, and he wants to do something to fulfill the need of these people:  to be able to have jobs.  Near the end of the book, Paul believes that the only way he can solve this problem is if the country sacrifices the economy by replacing the machines with people:  “to revolutionize the world by restoring the machine-controlled world back to the people.”  Paul throughout the novel has to find the answer for how he could help the average people; worst of all, his idea for a solution could mean challenging the high ranking people and put the economy at risk.  Huckleberry Finn (Huck) is a character who has good judgment and is always uncomfortable when he cannot rationalize an idea, practice, event, etc.  His wise judgment questions many customs including why his elders consider something to be right and something to be wrong when clearly the wrong seem to be easier.  Huck questions why he needs to “wash, and eat on a plate and comb up, and go to bed and get up regular, and be forever bothering over a book”.  Huck later travels with Jim a runaway slave, down the Mississippi.  Jim becomes one of the people Huck becomes to love the most.  Later he recalls what he had been taught by the society:  “There was the Sunday school, you could ’a’ done it they’d ’a’ learnt you there that people that act as I’d been acting about that nigger goes to everlasting fire.”  He had been taught that he can go to hell for setting an African American free.  And because all this could not be rationalized by his mind, he finally decides:  “All right, then, I’ll go to hell.”  Huck has decided to take actions that can be dangerous and is completely against the society.  Like Dr. Paul Proteus, Huckleberry Finn comes to a conclusion which might in some way be risky.  And even though they go through similar problems, they themselves are not quite similar.

Dr. Paul Proteus and Huckleberry Finn differ in general aspects like physical descriptions, the amount of knowledge, and their thought process.  Dr. Paul Proteus is a grown man at the age 35.  The book describes him as “tall, thin, nervous, and dark, with the gentle good looks of his face distorted by dark-rimmed glasses.”  As his name implies that he has a Doctorate Degree.  He is “the most important, brilliant person in Illium, the Manager of the Illium Works” (In the novel, Illium is a city, in New York where Illium Works is located).  Paul’s is generous and he likes to help people to the best of his abilities.  He decides not to fire his one of his employees, Shepherd, even though that person has been spreading rumors about Paul because of jealousy.  Everyone is expecting Shepherd to get fired as Paul learns of this occurrence.  However, Paul is completely generous and flexible:  “I forgive you,” said Paul.  “I want you to go on working for me, if you will.  There isn’t a better man in the world for you job.”  Huckleberry Finn on the other hand is described to be a young, curious, and naughty “orphan”.  He has no mother and his father is a no good drunk man.  Unlike Paul, Huck is a kid who does not have much knowledge; in fact, he does not even know why he even needs to gain knowledge.  However it is important to know that Huck does gain enough knowledge and experience to make one of his most important decisions of his life.  It is not until much later in the novel that Huckleberry think about other people but himself.  The following quote will demonstrate his feelings for others early in the book:

She told me…I must help other people, and do everything I could for other people, and look out for them all the time, and never think about myself…I went out in the woods and turned it over in my mind a long time, but I couldn’t see no advantage about it—except for the other people; so at last I reckoned I wouldn’t worry about it any more, but jest let it go.


Huck does not seem to understand whey he might need to care for and think about others if it does not bring any advantages for himself.  Dr. Paul Proteus is an intelligent and generous man while Huckleberry Finn is a naughty child who still has a lot to learn about his life.

The two character, though quite different, are seeking for a similar goal.  They wand to find if what the society believes is actually right; they are also trying to learn more about the world they live in.  Their physical characteristics and experience might differ, but their hearts are the same.


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