Many literary works come across as hard for explanation, it’s been a problem since literature has been a main stay in society. Over time many styles of interpretation have been both approached and adapted by readers and critics alike. One of the most popular is the biographical interpretation. This is when a reader makes use of details regarding the life, times and works of an author as a means of solving interpretive problems. The biographical interpretation is a very good way to get inside the readers head because the past, and your past experiences are what shape your mind as it matures over time, even the smallest experience can make a decent sized impact on one’s thought process.
Mark Twain is a good example of an author that has been analyzed, possibly even over analyzed. By every angle he has been looked at, most notably for his works on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. If you were to read his book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn without taking a look at any biographical pieces about Mark Twain you would undoubtedly not get as much out of the novel as you would in contrast, if you were to read the biography. To prove the point the help of the semi-biographical essay The Life of Samuel Clemens and the Reception of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will be called upon throughout the essay.
At the beginning of the biographical essay there is an excellent explanation of the personal side of Twain “the only clear picture is that Twain was a man of paradox” (pg. 19). The reason this excerpt fits the topic of biographical interpretation is because one key word within that quote, that key word being paradox. A paradox is a statement that seems contrary to common sense and yet is perhaps true. With The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn being the novel that we are taking a look at in contrast to the biographical side of Mark Twain this word, paradox, fits perfectly since there are paradoxes running throughout the novel. A good example of a paradox in the novel is from the mouth of Huck Finn himself: When it was dark I set by my campfire smoking, and feeling pretty satisfied; but by-and-by it got sort of lonesome, and so I went and set on the bank… and counted the stars and drift-logs and rafts that come down, and then went to bed; there ain’t no better way to put in time when you are lonesome; you can’t stay so, you soon get over it. (Pg. 62)
The paradox that has been spoken by Huckleberry is that depression and lonesomeness can be slept away. Which when first heard can be looked over and seen as straight out nonsense. However if it is thought about closely most people that are depressed can be get a quick fix from what makes them depressed by sleeping through it as much as they can, sort of like sleep and relaxation was the drug of it’s time. It may sound inconceivable now, but in the era that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was penned the idea of sleeping, or rather lounging around for days was not that inconceivable because they did not live the busy lifestyle in which we live in current time.
This is just one of many paradoxes throughout the book that reflect the author in a great way due to the fact that he was known as a living paradox because of the way he lived his life. For a man that made money out of writing about adventures of rafting down the Mississippi and barely getting by money wise seem so interesting. But grew up living in Connecticut for a good amount of time in his life and also seeking to be filthy rich, and have no worries is most likely the biggest paradox of his life.
Another way that the book of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn can be looked at from a biographical perspective and make sense is the fact that the main characters in the novel have a very similar background as to which they grew up in. In a paragraph written by an African American professor of eastern studies and a writer of African-American folktales and poetry. A man by the name of Julius Lester speaks of the relationship between Huck, Tom, and Mark Twain himself in a very unique manner. Just after he speaks of how he does not recollect ever reading the writings of Mark Twain, but then says something to the effect of what American child hasn’t read the tales of Huck and Tom so maybe he has, but the literature was not that significant to his life. What Lester has to say is something that most people taking the biographical interpretation approach should use as an approach to all authors in relation to the characters they write of: I do have an emotional memory of going to Hannibal, Missouri with my parents when I was eight or nine, and visiting the two-story frame house where Mark Twain lived as a boy-where Huck and Tom lived as boys. (Pg. 341, Morality and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn)
This is a great comment because when you take a novel and try and put a biographical interpretation onto that novel you need to take a very close look at the characters and their relation to the author. That is the mainstay of the biographical interpretation, how the characters are at all a parallel to the author. With Mark Twain himself growing up for part of his life on the Mississippi it gave him great knowledge of what he was talking about, and it gave him the roots of the characters that are now notable American icons. Him having the knowledge of the Mississippi, and of southern life in America at that time influenced the characters and the novel infinitely. Whether it is a satirical look at the way American life was at that time is a whole different essay. With all of this in mind it can be said that he sure lived the life of Huck and Tom whether it be on a lower level, or a parallel these characters and Mark Twain are one in the same.
These are only a few examples of how the biographical interpretation of a novel is a very reliable approach to analyzing literature as long as you know that the biographical information is accurate. Doing this will also make the novel much more enjoyable because if you read the biographical essay, paragraph, novel, etc. Then you will be able to go along the book and be able to not look down upon the book, but look more for the reason that that author had said what he said, and what he really meant by it. It is about looking from the inside and looking out at the novel for the reasons behind what was said, instead of looking into the novel for the reasons to not read the book altogether
Courtney from Study Moose
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