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 I’m left behind circumnavigating the islands of elephant dung and getting drunk on Robitussin®. 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? Isn’t this illegal by now? I mean, isn’t there a clause in the Patriot Act... an eleventh commandment... a dictate from Xenu? Isn’t Huckleberry Finn, like Romeo and Juliet and To Kill a Mockingbird, now an unavoidable teenage road bump between rainbow parties and huffing spray paint? Isn’t 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?
Let’s 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 there’s 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 Tom’s 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 haven’t been seen since the golden age of Three’s Company -- which ends with Tom arriving and devising a ridiculously elaborate scheme for rescuing Jim.
All in all, the ending didn’t bother me as much as it bothered some essayists I’ve read. That is, it didn’t 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?
Chapter 12 - Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
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
Commonly named among the Great American Novels , the work is among the first in major American literature to be written throughout in vernacular English, characterized by local color regionalism. It is a direct sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The book is noted for its colorful description of people and places along the Mississippi River. Set in a Southern antebellum society that had ceased to exist over 20 years before the work was published, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an often scathing satire on entrenched attitudes, particularly racism. Perennially popular with readers, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has also been the continued object of study by literary critics since its publication. The book was widely criticized upon release because of its extensive use of coarse language. Throughout the 20th century, and despite arguments that the protagonist and the tenor of the book are anti-racist,   criticism of the book continued due to both its perceived use of racial stereotypes and its frequent use of the racial slur " nigger ".
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