What Makes an Outlaw a Man?
Men! Drenched in testosterone, booze, and angst! They hang onto the laws of old to preserve that sweet and toxic masculinity! Real men are the Paps and the Ahabs, not the boys of Hucks and Ishmaels. The first two men definitely don’t die in their respected canons because of their masculinity. And please, read my words like I just drenched them in sarcasm. Because it’s the idea of toxic manhood that killed those two characters. Not only that, it also stopped them from being true outlaws. I consider the true outlaws to be Huck in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Ishmael in Moby-Dick because they do not exhibit the typical masculine qualities and their ability to operate separate from this is what makes them outlaws.
In Moby-Dick, Ishmael is the outlaw figure versus the tragic figure of Ahab. Not everyone sees that though, not even Ishmael. When Ahab is introduced from Ishmael’s perspective, he describes his captain with as a Greek hero. “He looked like a man cut away from the stake, when the fire has overunningly wasted all the limbs without consuming them, or taking away one particle from their compacted aged robustness.” (Melville, 102) Ahab viewed is by others, the sailors of the Pequod and the readers, as a rugged man with experience about the violent life of whaling. But, this life has done damage to his psyche and legs, or more appropriately leg. When Ahab declares that his crew will help him with his quest for revenge against Moby-Dick, he expresses his pain through passion. “That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him.” (Melville, 133) Why is hate the only emotion that “manly” men can muster? Ahab hangs onto this hate and we see that this kills not only him but also his crew. Everyone, but Ishmael. His emotions do not lie with hatred at Moby-Dick, God, and destiny, but indifference towards them. In the basket weaving scene, he does not believe his path is something made by divine intervention. “There are certain queer and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own.” (Melville, 179)
This is a stark difference between him and Ahab, where Ahab almost sees himself as his own god. Ishmael doesn’t care about power or destiny. His emotions go beyond that, and it allows to make deep connections to other humans. Ishmael’s and Queequeg relationship fits this description. “Man and wife, they say, there open the very bottom of their souls to each other; and some old couple often lie and chat over old times till nearly morning. Thus, then, in our hearts’ honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg- a cosy loving pair.” (Melville, 53) This connection between Queequeg and Ishmael is incredibly deep and profound, more than we ever hear of Ahab and his wife. Deep male connections aren’t a masculine trait, yet Ishmael creates this beautiful bond with Queequeg. Ahab’s toxic masculinity steals any ambition of him becoming an outlaw and gives it to the man, Ishmael, who is outside of the social laws around gender.
Pap in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is nothing close to the outlaw I’m defining in my essay. He helped raised an outlaw, but the toxicity he placed on Huck makes the son an outlaw, not him. When he threatens to beat up Huck after he’s learning to read and write, it displays his own insecurities about his place as a father. “‘You’re educated too, they say; can read and write. You think you’re better’n your father, now, don’t you, because he can’t? I’ll take it out of you.’” (Twain, 21) Pap wants to be the patriarchal figure in Huck’s life because that’s what he’s supposed to do as a father; but how can he be that if Huck has a higher education than him? Pap also can’t be this patriarchal figure because he spends too much time getting drunk and wasting money. “Every time he got money he got drunk; and every time he got drunk he raise Cain around town; and every time he raised Cain he got jailed. He was just suited- this kind of thing was right in his line.” (Twain, 24) While his actions maybe more of something that a man in this era wouldn’t do, this doesn’t make him an outlaw. If anything, his desire to beat his son, drink his savings away, and be a cold individual are traits of toxic masculinity.
And while we might be inclined to think Huck will follow Pap in the cycle of abuse, he breaks out of this. Huck is more like Ishmael, not getting carried away with destiny, God, or society. He is outside the law of society with Jim on the river. After the event with the feud, Huck contemplates what it’s like to be on the raft. “We [Huck and Jim] said there warn’t no home like a raft after all. Other places do seem so cramped upend smothery, but a raft don’t. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.” (Twain, 107) When Huck isn’t worrying about home or the feud, it’s always on the river. And he operates better as an outlaw here because his father’s masculine hold isn’t on him. And his relationship with Jim is also deep. It’s not the same level as Queequeg and Ishmael, but it’s still a bond that has no room in toxic masculinity. Huck’s famous line of “All right, then, I’ll go to hell” (Twain, 195) is preceded by Huck thinking about Jim. “And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me, all the time, in day, and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storm, and we a floating along, talking, and singing, and laughing.” (Twain, 194) Huck’s willingness to go to hell comes from his love and affection for Jim. Men like Pap don’t do that because they’re manly men, but Huck the outlaw is willing to give up his soul in order to save his friend. Huck is an outlaw over his father because his attitude towards life and relationships is nonconformist to social norms in the era.
Outlaws aren’t these tough guys who act outside the law. It takes more than that. Outlaws act outside of societal constraints, especially those concerning gender constraints. That’s why Ishmael and Huck are the ultimate outlaws. They don’t fit other male counterparts in their canons. Pap and Ahab may not be the standard citizen of their times, but this doesn’t make them outlaws. Their masculinity is just as toxic, maybe even more so, than the men around them. The lack of gender norms, or the lack of constraint they feel towards these norms, in Huck and Ishmael are what I believe the qualities that make them outlaws.
- Melville, Herman. Moby-Dick. Edited by Hershel Parker, W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 2018.
- Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Barnes & Nobles Books, 2003.