The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark TwainAfter reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I realized that I had absolutely nothing to say about it. And yet here, as you see, I have elected to say it anyway, and at great length.
Reading this novel now, at the age of mumble-mumble, is a bit like arriving at the circus after the tents have been packed, the bearded lady has been depilated, and the funnel cake trailers have been hitched to pick-up trucks and captained, like a formidable vending armada, toward the auburn sunset. All the fun has already been used up, and Iím left behind circumnavigating the islands of elephant dung and getting drunk on Robitussinģ. Same story, different day.
How exactly did I make it through eight total years of high school and undergraduate studies in English without having read any Mark Twain but a brief (and forgotten) excerpt from Life on the Mississippi? Isnít this illegal by now? I mean, isnít there a clause in the Patriot Act... an eleventh commandment... a dictate from Xenu? Isnít Huckleberry Finn, like Romeo and Juliet and To Kill a Mockingbird, now an unavoidable teenage road bump between rainbow parties and huffing spray paint? Isnít it the role of tedious classic literature to add color and texture to the pettiness of an adolescence circumscribed by status updates, muff shaving, and shooting each other? Or am I old-fashioned?
Letís face it. In the greater social consciousness, there are two stars of this book: (1) the word nigger and (2) the Sherwood Schwartz-style ending in which Tom Sawyer reappears and makes even the most casual reader wonder whether he might not be retarded.
Huckleberry Finn, for all his white trash pedigree, is actually a pretty smart kid -- the kind of dirty-faced boy you see, in his younger years, in a shopping cart at Wal-Mart, being barked at by a monstrously obese mother in wedgied sweatpants and a stalagmite of a father who sweats tobacco juice and thinks the word coloreds is too P.C. Orbiting the cart, filled with generic cigarette cartons, tabloids, and canned meats, are a half-dozen kids, glazed with spittle and howling like Helen Keller over the water pump, but your eyes return to the small, sad boy sitting in the cart. His gaze, imploring, suggestive of a caged intellect, breaks your heart, so you turn and comparison-shop for chewing gum or breath mints. He is condemned to a very dim horizon, and thereís absolutely nothing you can do about it, so you might as well buy some Altoids and forget about it...
That boy is the spiritual descendant of Huckleberry Finn.
The nigger controversy -- is there still one? -- is terribly inconsequential. It almost seems too obvious to point out that this is (a) firstly a period novel, meaning it that occurs at a very specific historical moment at a specific location and (b) secondly a first-person narrative, which is therefore saddled with the language, perspective, and nascent ideologies of its narrator. Should we expect a mostly uneducated, abused adolescent son of a racist alcoholic who is living in the South before the Civil War to have a respectful, intellectually-enlightened perspective toward black people? Should the character of Huck Finn, in other words, be ahistorical, anachronistic? Certainly not, if we expect any semblance of honesty from our national literature.
Far more troubling to many critics is the ending of Huckleberry Finn, when -- by a freakishly literary coincidence -- Huck Finn is mistaken for Tom Sawyer by Tomís relatives, who happen to be holding Jim (the slave on the run) in hopes of collecting a reward from his owners. There are all sorts of contrivances in this scenario -- the likes of which havenít been seen since the golden age of Threeís Company -- which ends with Tom arriving and devising a ridiculously elaborate scheme for rescuing Jim.
All in all, the ending didnít bother me as much as it bothered some essayists Iíve read. That is, it didnít strike me as especially conspicuous in a novel which relies a great deal on narrative implausibility and coincidence. Sure, Tom Sawyer is something of an idiot, as we discover, but in a novel that includes faked deaths and absurd con jobs, his idiocy seems well-placed.
In the end, I suppose the greatest thing I can say about this novel is that it left me wondering what happened to Huck Finn. Would his intellect and compassion escape from his circumstances or would he become yet another bigoted, abusive father squiring another brood of dirty, doomed children around a fluorescently-lit Wal-Mart?
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read. Want to Read savingÖ. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Other editions. Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again.
Huck runs away from his abusive father and, with his companion, the runaway slave Jim , makes a long and frequently interrupted voyage down the Mississippi River on a raft. During the journey Huck encounters a variety of characters and types in whom the book memorably portrays almost every class living on or along the river. As a result of these experiences, Huck overcomes conventional racial prejudices and learns to respect and love Jim. But a thread that runs through adventure after adventure is that of human cruelty, which shows itself both in the acts of individuals and in their unthinking acceptance of such institutions as slavery. The natural goodness of Huck is continually contrasted with the effects of a corrupt society. This realism was the source of controversy that developed concerning the book in the late 20th century. Nevertheless, the publication in of a bowdlerized version of the novel generated debate and was considered by many to be every bit as unacceptable as the original.
Huck was already well known to an American audience thirsting for more of Twain's brand of humor, and Twain hoped to capitalize on his recent literary successes. Despite the end of the Civil War in , it was a tumultuous time for America. Southern Reconstruction had fallen into disarray, and a new racism of segregation and condoned inequality replaced the slavery that had been abolished with the Emancipation Proclamation. Twain's original intention, as he stated to William Dean Howells, was to take "a boy of twelve and run him on through life in the first person. After writing the first few chapters, Twain's inspiration for the tale began to fade, and he set aside the work to pursue other projects such as A Tramp Abroad and The Prince and the Pauper In , Twain again took up the manuscript and began developing the story of the young, white boy named Huck and the enslaved, black man named Jim.
On its surface, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a straightforward story about a boy and a runaway slave floating down the Mississippi River. But underneath, the bookówhich was published in the U. It remains one of the most loved, and most banned, books in American history. He wears cast-off adult clothes and sleeps in doorways and empty barrels. Twain once said that Huck is based on Tom Blankenship, a childhood friend whose father, Woodson Blankenship, was a poor drunkard and the likely model for Pap Finn. Huckleberry Finn was written in two short bursts.