Mar 17 2010

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Today I finished another book, Mark Twain’s 1885 classic “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn“. I’m pretty sure I’ve read an abridged version of the book before because some sections were very familiar, while others were completely new to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was handed an edited version in school as the 125 year old book continues to be controversial. A sequel to “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” (1876), Finn’s book humorously details the events of Huckleberry Finn and Jim’s rafting adventure down the Mississippi River. Twain’s original intent was to tell Huckleberry’s story through adulthood but he later abandoned the idea. Instead, the story ends with Huckleberry making plans to head west for “howling adventures amongst the Injuns”.

The book has been attacked by critics since its publication. Today, most criticisms of the book revolve around Twain’s treatment of Jim, the runaway slave. The language is harsh at times and the “black vernacular” sometimes made me cringe or shift uncomfortably. I guess that’s the desired result of years and years of Black History Month commercials and the cultural admonition that a certain N-word can only be used by blacks. That’s fine. More disturbing to me was the caricature of Jim as a simpleton. Although Jim’s compliance with every hare-brained scheme Finn (and others) submit him to, makes the story more manageable (for the author), it detracts from the character’s believability. In Chapter 15, it was child’s play for Huckleberry to convince Jim that he’d dreamed being lost in the fog just moments before (that’s just one of many examples). Coming out of the fog however, is the most symbolic and poignant part of the book (in my opinion… and that’s what blogs are all about, right?) because it is then that Huckleberry realizes that Jim is a person. This realization however, never seems to dislodge Huck’s notion that Jim is also property and that Huck himself is a bad person for facilitating Jim’s escape. More than once, Huck secretly laments helping Jim because, “What had poor Miss Watson [ever] done to him” to deserve this. It’s a conflict that follows Huck throughout the book and is never really resolved. I think that’s what I liked most about the book. Despite the fact that the ending is a bit over-the-top and wraps up rather neatly, the main conflict (Huck’s moral growth) is left incomplete. This is the most satisfying way for the story to end because although Huck, like the time that he “lived” may never change, they can forever remind us of what we’ve overcome.

“Well, I says to myself at last, I’m a-going to chance it; I’ll up and tell the truth this time, though it does seem most like setting down on a kag of powder and touching it off just to see where you’ll go to.”

5 out of 5