The Clothes Make the Man
The Grangerford family serves as an allegory meant to show Southern readers both the horror and the futility of hatred and violence. TSIn the Grangerford home, the feud with the Shepherdsons is kept alive by the authority of Colonel Grangerford. As the father of a typically male-dominated Southern family, he sets the moral compass for them. CDHuck tells the reader that “every day of [the colonel’s] life he put on a clean shirt and a full suit from head to foot made out of linen so white it hurt your eyes to look at it.
CMColonel Grangerford’s “clean” shirt projects the idea that he is a person of the highest moral quality, even though he advocates racism, vengeance, violence and ignorance under his own roof. Huck voices the collective opinion of Southern society when he decides that the Colonel “was a gentleman all over” (p. 140) based almost entirely on the man’s possessions. CSTwain uses the Colonel to show that white Southerners judge the moral quality of a man by his superficial appearance rather than focusing on his character.
TSThe oldest two sons, Bob and Tom Grangerford, symbolize the pattern by which the family ideology is passed from generation to generation. CDBoth are described as “dressed in white linen from head to foot, like the old gentleman. ” (p. 141) CMThe Colonel imprints them with his belief system from the outside in. It is his rules and his understanding of the world that “dresses” the ideas of his children. CSJust as the boys try to emulate their father’s external appearance, they also adopt his worldview and moral guidelines.
TSBuck’s limited moral and academic education is highlighted frequently during Huck’s time with him. CM Buck desperately wants to murder Shephersons, even though he doesn’t know the reasons behind his family’s feud. What makes the situation sadder is that he seems to respect his enemies’ courage and unity, two of his family’s core virtues, and defends them to Huck. CD“There ain’t a coward amongst them Shepherdsons,” Buck says, “not a one. ” (p. 145) His father’s corrupt teaching has left Buck unable to recognize when he is acting immorally.
When Buck fails to correctly spell the name “George Jackson”, he also demonstrates his academic shortcomings. CSTwain does this to show that even though Colonel Grangerford has enough money to educate Buck, he shields his son from the classroom to maintain control over what he learns. As a result of his limited education, Buck grows up as an incomplete man. When Huck first sees Buck, he notices that “he hadn’t on anything but a shirt, and he was very frowzy-headed.
Buck’s unfinished outfit symbolizes his deficient schooling, and the frowziness of his hair represents his father’s negligence in his moral instruction. Huck tells us that when he goes to Buck’s room, “[Buck] got me a coarse shirt and a roundabout and pants of his. ” (p. 131) The rough texture of the shirt is another metaphor for Buck’s stunted mental growth, and its rigid construction reminds us of the stern control that the Colonel, who bought the shirt, exerts over his son.
Twain suggests that the Grangerfords’ demise is directly related to their lack of education, when their inability to foresee the Shepherdsons’ ambush results in Buck’s death. He shows the reader how the family stunted their intellectual and spiritual growth by focusing their time and energy on hatred, racism and cruelty. Any southerners of the time who shared similar values as the Grangerfords were likely given much to think about when they read this family’s story and the price they paid for their crooked moral values.