Friday, September 28, 2007

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Below is an honest-to-god real-life post on my Children's Lit class' Huckleberry Finn message board. The context: In order to escape his abusive father, Huck waits until he leaves their cabin, kills a pig and spills the blood all over, and then drags a heavy sack of rocks to the river in order to give the impression that he has been murdered and dumped in the water. Then he runs away.

Does anyone find the part of the book in "I fool Pap and get way," completely disturbing!!?? As a person reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for the first time, I was completely in shock when I became aware of this gruesome plan. I hate to dwell on the repeated violence in these novels so much, but I wonder how we can consider books with such vulgarity "classics." Moreover, the fact that we categorize this book as a children's novel is also appalling. In my opinion, I (let alone children), shouldn't be exposed to things like "I fetched the pig in, and took him back nearly to the table and hacked into his throat with the ax, and laid him down on the ground to bleed." Couldn't Twain have simply said that he used the pig to fake his death? Was all of this detail necessary? Or, is it needed to show Huck's cleverness? Personally, I believe that Twain should have listened to his wife on this one and edited this graphic animal abuse part out.

Oh. my. god. I can't even begin to comprehend what goes on in this girl's mind. Huck Finn is a book that contains around thirteen corpses, including children, and some are fairly gruesome. And this girl is worried about the pig? Talk about missing the point. The sad thing is, when I went to recitation to talk about this book today, this probably wasn't the stupidest thing that anyone said. I hope nobody from that class reads this.

On a more substantive level, this girl unwittingly stumbles into an interesting question: Is Huck Finn children's literature? It certainly comes out of a genre of boy adventure tales that would appeal to young males, and was marketed that way. Moreover, it is the sequel to a book in Tom Sawyer that in many ways epitomized that genre and lacks many of the darker and more complex themes of Huck Finn. This fascinates me--imagine if after Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret Judy Blume wrote a book in which Margaret's best friend was forced to deal with the brutality of death and human cruelty while pondering the complex ethics of American race relations. If Tom Sawyer is a children's book, Huck Finn is what happens to children's books who are abused and grow up to be serial murderers.

This is the fourth time I've read Huck Finn. If you ask me, it's the greatest book ever produced in this country--its plot is perfectly constructed, its two main characters, Huck and N-Word Jim, are two of the most convincing and sympathetic characters in all of modern English fiction, and at its heart it deals with something quintessentially American: the post-Civil War struggle of America to deal with the abject shame of slavery and incorporate freed blacks into society. Its status as one of the most banned books in American history only increases its importance: It was first banned from the Concord Public Library in 1885--thanks to a push from none other than Louisa May Alcott--for concerns not very different from those above (though Alcott was more concerned about the deaths of, you know, people>), and today the prevalence of the n-word makes it a popular target.

This is wholesale ridiculousness, because outside of maybe Uncle Tom's Cabin there is no greater affirmation of the humanity of the black man in 19th century literature than this novel. When Huck and Jim move down the Mississippi on their raft, it is almost as if they inhabit a "Green World" in which the standards of society no longer apply and barriers are removed. Consequently, after a struggle with his own conscience, Huck comes to realize what we already know about Jim: He is intelligent, loyal, loving, and paternalistic. In a book in which every adult seems to be cruel (Pap, the Duke and Dauphin) or foolish (The Grangerfords, Shepherdsons, and Phelps), the one true noble character is Jim, who cares so strongly for Huck.

Is Huck Finn children's literature? Certainly today it is still read by children--though I know that many parents instead steer their child for Tom Sawyer as it lacks the controversy--and certainly it is steeped in the genre expectations of children's literature. But I think what is wonderful about Huck Finn is that it can be read by persons of any age or race and still be affecting; it simply is a book that transcends those kind of labels.

I know that Brent hasn't read Huck Finn, which strikes me as weird. I tried not to give away too much in case there's anyone else who hasn't read it--because if you haven't, it should be the next book you read. Really.


Christopher said...

N.B.: "Green World" is a term to describe the strange space that characters enter in Shakespeare plays in which magic and transformation become possible. Cf. the forest in A Midsummer Night's Dream

Carlton said...

Huck Finn: A
Fuck Hinn A!

Nihil Novum said...

Hi,I am a student in Cornwall New York. I thought this book was good but not great, so I gave it 3 stars. The part that I liked a lot and thought that it was very clever, was when "Huck" killed the pig and spread the blood all over to make his dad think that someone murdered him and took "Huck's" body away. Another thing that I thought was clever was that "Huck" ran into the runaway slave that everyone was looking for. The slave's name was Jim. I loved that Jim and "Huck" stayed together on the adventure for the whole book.I also liked that the author,Mark Twain,made it that "Huck" and Jim kept running into problems and kept thinking creativily to get out of the conflict. The raft was also pretty cool because it had a tent and a rutter, but the cool thing was, it was all made out of wood. Another part of the story I liked was when "Huck" disguised himself as a girl by dressing up in a really girly dress.That is how and why I like the book,The Adventures of Huckelberry Finn:Down The River.I highly recommend reading this book over and over again.

Anonymous said...

Did you know that many of Mark Twain's books are available online free like
The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc is available online here