HuckleBerry Finn Essay
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“‘Ransomed? What’s that? ’ ‘… it means that we keep them till they’re dead’” (10). This dialogue reflects Twain’s witty personality. Mark Twain, a great American novelist, exploits his humor, realism, and satire in his unique writing style in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain, born in 1835, wrote numerous books throughout his lifetime. Many of his books include humor; they also contain deep cynicism and satire on society. Mark Twain, the author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, exemplifies his aspects of writing humor, realism, and satire throughout the characters and situations in his great American novel.
Mark Twain applies humor in the various episodes throughout the book to keep the reader laughing and make the story interesting. The first humorous episode occurs when Huck Finn astonishes Jim with stories of kings. Jim had only heard of King Solomon, whom he considers a fool for wanting to chop a baby in half and adds, “‘Yit dey say Sollermun de wises’ man dat ever live’.
I doan’ take no stock in dat’” (75). Next, the author introduces the Grangerfords as Huck goes ashore and unexpectedly encounters this family. Huck learns about a feud occurring between the two biggest families in town: the Grangerfords and the Sheperdsons.
When Huck asks Buck about the feud, Buck replies, “’… a feud is this way: A man has a quarrel with another man, and kills him; then that other man’s brother kills him; then the other brothers, on both sides, goes for one another; then the cousins chip in – and by and by everybody’s killed off, and there ain’t no more feud’” (105). A duel breaks out one day between the families and Huck leaves town, heading for the river where he rejoins Jim, and they continue down the Mississippi. Another humorous episode appears n the novel on the Phelps plantation. Huck learns that the king has sold Jim to the Phelps family, relatives of Tom Sawyer.
The Phelps family mistakes Huck for Tom Sawyer. When Tom meets with Aunt Sally, he “… [reaches] over and [kisses] Aunt Sally on the mouth” (219) This comes as a surprises to her and Tom explains that he “[thinks] [she] [likes] it” (219) Later, Huck runs into Tom on the way into town and the two make up another story about their identities. The two then devise a plan to rescue Jim. They use Jim as a prisoner and make him go through jail escaping cliches. While going through these rituals he replies “‘I never knowed b’ fo’ ‘twas so much bother and trouble to be a prisoner’” (252).
In the end, though, Tom reveals that Jim owns himself. Twain uses humor as a way to add realism to multiple situations. Mark Twain employs several examples of realism in the way he wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain explores the gullibility of society when the duke and king go to the camp meeting and collect money from the poor, unsuspecting, church-going people. The king makes up a story about his profession as a pirate who lost his crew at sea, to which the people respond saying, “‘Take up a collection for him, take up a collection! ’” (128).
Twain uses deceit, lying, and hypocrisy throughout the novel, which appear in various chapters. Twain also reveals examples of realism through the dialect the characters use in the novel. In his book, Twain utilizes the real dialect used at the time, which further demonstrates the realist qualities which he possesses. Throughout the book, Twain includes many different dialects including “the Missouri Negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary ‘Pike County’ dialect, and four modified varieties of the last” (2). Other examples of realism occur throughout the setting.
The story takes place in St. Petersburg and on the Mississippi, near Twain’s place of birth. In particular, Mark Twain makes use of the episodes of realism as a way to satirize society. Satire, another element in Twains writing, occurs many times throughout his novel as well. A convincing example of satire occurs in the first chapter when Huck says, “[b]y and by they fetched the niggers in and had prayers, and then everybody was off to bed” (5). This pokes fun at the fact that Miss Watson tries to become a better Christian and a better person but still owns slaves and considers them property.
Another satisfactory example of satire occurs when Pap becomes outraged at the thought of a black man having the opportunity to vote. However, the black man actually has more education than Pap (27). Twain uses the Boggs-Sherburn event to include more satire. When Boggs enters the story he says he has come to murder Colonel Sherburn. Sherburn then proceeds to shoot Boggs and the townspeople plan to lynch him. Sherburn laughs in their faces and says to them, “‘you are – cowards’” (142). Finally the crowd breaks up and moves on (142).
Huck reflects on this incident and says “… the pitifulest thing out is a mob” (142). Another prime example of satire occurs when Huck goes to the Phelps plantation and sees the two frauds, the king and the duke, tarred and feathered. He points out that “[h]uman beings can be awful cruel to one another” (222). Mark Twain includes numerous examples of satire throughout the novel. Through the use of humor, realism, and satire, Twain illustrates these aspects of his writing style. His style portrays the flaws in society and how pre-Civil War people treat each other.
Mark Twain, one of the great American novelists of the nineteenth century, uses his books to teach others about life in the 1840s. Huckleberry Finn Analysis Although there are several themes that are apparent in Mark Twain’s The Adventures Huckleberry Finn, there is one theme that is more distinguished throughout the course of the novel than any other. This satirical view of Twain’s is apparent through his story of Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain uses satire to convey his views on the failings and evils of society by poking fun at the institutions of religion, education, and slavery.
This satirical view of Twain’s is apparent through his story of Huckleberry Finn. Religion is one of the key recipients of Twain’s satire throughout the novel. Huck is forced by Ms. Watson to read and learn about the important people in The Bible, and within the first pages of the book we discover Huck is not fond of the widow or her lectures. Twain uses Huck to reveal his idea that people put so much devotion into the works of long-gone ancestors of The Bible that they ignore other moral accomplishments of the present day.
It is shown that religious people seem to be blind to the realities of modern civilization, and are living their lives according to old morals. This is why Huck mentions that the widow does not see any good in his works, and regardless of what Huck feels, his good deeds are not a . . . The youngest Grangerford grows up in a world of feuds, family picnics, and Sunday sermons that are appreciated but rarely followed and never questions the ways of his family. This family lives their lives by tradition, and the fact that the feud is a tradition justifies its needless, pointless violence for them.
As Mark Twain once said, “I believe I have no prejudices whatsoever. Another time, Pap is ranting about an educated black and insists that he is superior to the colored man, even though he himself has no education and, is a drunk. This novel also shows that recognition of a human being is sometimes unintentionally ignored, as seen through religion and education, yet very deliberate through the torment of slavery. After this, Huck begins to truly consider the fact that Jim is smart, “I never see such a nigger…. nything honorable, like biblical events, in the eyes of his elders.
By using this feud as an example, Twain shows that people will blindly follow what they have been raised on without stopping to think about the consequences. Huck admires the Grangerfords’ principles, and the interest they placed in good manners, delicious food, and attractive possessions. The reasons for the rivalries between the two families have been forgotten. This idea is brought to the reader’s attention when Col. All I need to know is that a man is a member of the human race. The Shepherdsons done the same” (110). Common topics in this essay:
Huck Jim, Mark Twain, Bible Huck, Twain Huck, Grangerfords Huck, Mark Twains, Deacon Winn, Grangerford Shepherdsons, Huckleberry Finn, Ms Watson, huckleberry finn, apparent story, finn mark, mark twain, adventures huckleberry, adventures huckleberry finn, huckleberry finn mark, view twains apparent, view twains, twains apparent, satire throughout, story huckleberry, apparent story huckleberry, beliefs towards, story huckleberry finn, Huckleberry Finn In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain created a character who exemplifies freedom within, and from, American society.
Huck lives on the margins of society because, as the son of the town drunk, he is pretty much an orphan. He sleeps where he pleases, provided nobody chases him off, and he eats when he pleases, provided he can find a morsel. No one requires him to attend school or church, bathe, or dress respectably. It is understandable, if not expected, that Huck smokes and swears. Years of having to fend for himself have invested Huck with a solid common sense and a practical competence that complement Tom’s dreamy idealism and fantastical approach to reality (Tom creates worlds for himself that are based on those in stories he has read).
But Huck does have two things in common with Tom: a zest for adventure and a belief in superstition. Through Huck, Twain weighs the costs and benefits of living in a society against those of living independently of society. For most of the novel, adult society disapproves of Huck, but because Twain renders Huck such a likable boy, the adults’ disapproval of Huck generally alienates us from them and not from Huck himself. After Huck saves the Widow Douglas and gets rich, the scale tips in the direction of living in society.
But Huck, unlike Tom, isn’t convinced that the exchange of freedom for stability is worth it. He has little use for the money he has found and is quite devoted to his rough, independent lifestyle. When the novel ends, Huck, like Tom, is still a work in progress, and we aren’t sure whether the Widow Douglas’s attempts to civilize him will succeed (Twain reserves the conclusion of Huck’s story for his later novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). Mark Twain: Realism and Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain: Realism and Huckleberry Finn Wednesday, August 29th, 2007.
Is Mark Twain a Realist, nothing more and nothing less? As well as considering the meaning of Realism in a literary context this essay will critically examine the issues raised by the question with an analysis of Chapter XXXI, in which Jim is “stolen” and Huck decides that he will help Jim though he believes he will go to hell for doing so. In so doing it will be seen that the assertion is too narrow. One view is that Realism is not attainable: it is simply impossible to represent reality within a literary framework, K. Dauber (1999, p.386), considering Realism, argues that we can only get near to it in the imagination of the reader.
The use of metaphors and similes assists us to create, within our own imagination, a landscape within which plausible events occur as part of an understandable and plausible plot. Dauber, strictly speaking, is correct, however Realist texts do exist, in considering them we need a guide as to what it is that makes them Realist. A descriptive term like Realism is useful to the reader.
D. Pizer considers that “descriptive terms” such as “romanticism, realism and classicism are valuable and necessary” (1961, pp.263 – 269). His starting point is George Becker’s definition. Becker based his definition upon readings of European and American fiction since 1870; dividing realism into three categories: the realistic mode, realism of subject matter, and philosophical realism, Pizer considers “the realistic mode” based on three criteria: “Verisimilitude of detail derived from observation and documentation” (1949, pp. 184 – 197).
The use of various dialects (discussed in the preface), detailed descriptions of the river and nature are Realist observations. The style fits the first part of this definition.
Secondly is “reliance upon the representative rather than the exceptional in the plot, setting, and character” (1949, pp. 184 – 197). A slave’s escape from captivity and recapture is plausible and thus Realist. Thirdly is “an objective…. rather than a subjective or idealistic view of human nature and experience” (1949, pp. 184 – 197). Observations and descriptions of slavery, life in the South and on the river are objective. In chapter XXXI, Huck must decide between a moral obligation to contact Miss Watson and his debt to Jim for his help on their journey down river.
The text of Huckleberry Finn up to, and including, chapter XXXI conforms to Becker’s “realist mode” definition. On this basis, Twain is a Realist. However, categorisations are just guides as to what we may expect from a text or writer when categorised as Realist, Romanticist or Classicist. Twain explains his style in the preface. From this preface, Twain clearly considered it a Realist book. It is clear and generally agreed amongst critics, that up to and including chapter XXXI, Huckleberry Finn is a realist text.
Given the difficulties facing a slave on the run, within the contemporary context of its setting, it is plausible that Jim would face capture and be either lynched, mutilated or at least beaten if caught. However, one cannot consider Twain was “nothing more and nothing less than a Realist” in the context of this chapter alone. Critics, in the first half of the twentieth century, focused on the ending or “evasion” for analysis. Since the mid Twentieth Century, attention has focused on issues of race, gender and sexuality.
Many view the ending as disappointing: described it as an anti climax, even “burlesque” (De Voto, 1932). Tom Sawyer’s scheming to set free an already free slave is a betrayal and even “whimsicality” (T. S. Eliot (although he also argues that this is the only correct ending)). The style of the ending is different from the preceding text, it is more slapstick and humorous. Ernest Hemingway (1935) claimed, “All modern American literature comes from Huckleberry Finn”, but continued: “if you read it you must stop where the nigger Jim is stolen from the boys. This is the real end. The rest is cheating”.
De Voto (1932) considered the last eleven chapters fell “far below the accomplishment of what had gone before…this extemporized burlesque was a defacement of his purer work” (Cited by Hill, 1991, p 314). Tom Sawyer describes it, an “evasion”. It certainly detracts from the power of chapter XXXI: Huck’s rejection of Southern values, its belief in slavery and the superiority of whites. The “evasion” is the missed opportunity to emphasise this rejection by descending in to whimsicality and burlesque. The problem with Hemingway’s advice is that the book does not end at Chapter XXXI. Full analysis requires a complete reading.
The whole thrust of the ending, from when Tom returns to centre stage is that of comedy and farce, it is as though Huck is acquiescing in Tom Sawyers pranks and wild schemes. L. Trilling (1948) argues that Huck is simply deferring to Tom by giving him “centre stage”. Eliot agrees, but then argues that it is right Huck does give way to Tom. The style of the book comes from Huck and the river provides form: we understand the river by seeing it through Huck, who is himself also the spirit of the river and like a river, Huckleberry Finn has no beginning or end (cited by Graff and Phelan, 1995, pp 286 – 290).
Therefore, Huck, logically, has no beginning or end: as such he “can only disappear” in a “cloud of whimsicalities”. For Eliot this is the only way that the book can end. However, Eliot and Trilling rely on the fact that the River, Huck and Jim are symbolic, that they are allegorical. This suggests that the later chapters of the book are Romantic in style. The entire book must be considered in the context of the ending (however much it may disappoint), it is more a Romance; and to say that Twain is “nothing more and nothing less than a Realist” is thus incorrect.
However, what is Romanticism? In the United States Romanticism enjoyed philosophic expression within the movement known as Transcendentalism, in the texts of Emerson and Thoreau. Symbolic novels of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville emphasized concern with Transcendent reality. Nathaniel Hawthorne in the preface to The Scarlet Letter, The Custom House, writes, “If a man, sitting all alone, cannot dream strange things, and make them look like truth, he need never try to write romances.
” Romance offers a symbolic view of the world and, in that context, a historical representation of current issues is crucial (M. Kinkead-Weekes, 1982, p. 74). Symbolism and allegory are fundamental to a Romanticist text: “astonishing events may occur, and these are likely to have a symbolic or ideological, rather than a realistic, plausibility” R. Chase (1962, p13). Eliot’s interpretation, when considered in this context, asserts that Twain was not in fact writing as a Realist exclusively or, arguably, at all.
Hemingway does receive support in his argument that the ending “is cheating”. From Leo Marx, in his 1953 article: “Mr. Eliot, Mr. Trilling, and Huckleberry Finn”. He agrees that the ending does not fall within the realist tradition and offends plausibility in several ways: Miss Watson would not free Jim, the interjection of humour is “out of keeping” with the rest of the book: Huck’s easy transformation from bravely assisting an escaped slave and agonising over this moral position maturely, to clown; is not plausible.
To assist in humiliating Jim, a slave transformed to “freedom fighter”, when known, by Tom at least, that he is free already (however implausible that may be) is at odds with chapter XXXI and all preceding chapters. The ending reflects a conflict within Twain represented by Huck and Tom, he wanted to criticise Southern society but also to gain its approval. He does this by “freeing” an already free slave, so of the two white heroes, neither transgresses the law, nor break any moral codes of the South, and Huck is saved from going to Hell.
This marks a massive retreat from the powerful, and arguably most dramatic, scene in the text: the decision of Huck to reject that society’s values and go to Hell, rather than betray his friend Jim. Marx may have been critical of the ending of the book in terms of content, but, in his 1956 article, which examines the literary style of Twain in Huckleberry Finn, he considers use of language and the “book’s excellence”. He concludes the article by eulogising the text as one “which manages to suggest the lovely possibilities of life in America without neglecting its terrors”.
The two articles when read together are a powerful argument in favour of categorizing Huckleberry Finn as a Romance Twain a Romanticist rather than “Nothing more and nothing less than a Realist. ” J. M. Cox (1966) challenges Marx’s assessment: postulating that it is a story about a boy who has found himself, through force of circumstance in a difficult position. The reappearance of Tom in the story is a relief to Huck. By deferring to Tom at this stage, Huck is acting within character as developed earlier in the text: happy to be free of the responsibilities thrust upon him.
However, this analysis disregards the moral development of Huck in the text up to and including Chapter XXXI and the maturity of his moral deliberations. Marx, and others, are attempting to impose a political agenda that is not evident from the text; succumbing to the fashion that it is necessary for a hero to have an agenda. Huckleberry Finn is a child’s book. To impose sub texts involving subtle critiques of racial, gender, sexual and political issues misses the point entirely and is an over intellectualisation: blatantly ignoring Twain’s instructions at the beginning of the book (R.Hill, 1991).
If following Hemingway’s advice then Twain is no more and no less than a realist, but is not to read the book in its entirety: Chapter XXXI is not the end of the text. Twain has succeeded in creating a work of fiction that engenders precisely the kind of debate that he ironically dissuades the reader from indulging in: a literary masterpiece that stubbornly refuses to fit neatly into any categorization at all. To say, “Twain is a Realist nothing more and nothing less” is thus inaccurate.
Word Count: 1609 Bibliography George Becker, (June 1949), pp. 184 – 197, “Realism: An Essay in Definition”, in Modern Language Quarterly Richard Chase, (1957), The American Novel and Its Tradition, Anchor Books p. 13 James Cox, “Attacks on the Ending and Twain’s Attack on Conscience”, in Mark Twain: The fate of Humor, University of Missouri Press (1966); excerpted in Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a Case Study in Critical Controversy, Edited by Gerald Graff and James Phelan (1995) St. Martins Press pp.
305 – 312 Kenneth Dauber, (Summer 1999), “Realistically Speaking: Authorship, in late 19th Century and Beyond”, in American Literary History, Vol. 11, No. 2, pp 378-390 T. S. Eliot, “The Boy and the River: Without Beginning or End” reproduced in Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a Case Study in Critical Controversy, Edited by Gerald Graff and James Phelan (1995) St. Martins Press pp. 296 – 290 Ernest Hemingway, 1935, Green Hills of Africa Gerald Graff and James Phelan Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a Case Study in Critical Controversy, (1995) St.
Martins Press Richard Hill, (1991), “Overreaching: Critical Agenda and the Ending of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, Texas Studies in Literature and Language (Winter 1991): reproduced in Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a Case Study in Critical Controversy, Edited by Gerald Graff and James Phelan (1995) St. Martins Press pp. 312 – 334 Mark Kinkead-Weekes, (1982), “The Letter, the Picture, and the Mirror: Hawthorne’s Framing of The Scarlet Letter” Nathaniel Hawthorne New Critical Essays, Vision Press Limited, p. 74 Leo Marx, (1953), “Mr.
Eliot, Mr. Trilling, and Huckleberry Finn” The American Scholar reproduced in Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a Case Study in Critical Controversy, Edited by Gerald Graff and James Phelan (1995) St. Martins Press pp. 290 – 305 Leo Marx, (1956), “The Pilot and the Passenger: Landscape Conventions and the Style of Huckleberry Finn”, in American Literature, Vol. 28, No. 2, (May, 1956) pp. 129 -146 Robert Ornstein, (1959), “The Ending of Huckleberry Finn”, in Modern Language Notes, Vol. 74, No. 8 (Dec. , 1959), pp.
698 – 702 Donald Pizer, (1961), “Late Nineteenth Century American Realism: An Essay in Definition”, in Nineteenth Century American Fiction, Vol. 16, No. 3 (Dec 1961), pp 263-69 E. Arthur Robinson, (1960), “The Two “Voices” in Huckleberry Finn”, in Modern Language Notes, Vol. 75, No. 3. (Mar. 1960), pp. 204 – 208 Lionel Trilling, (1948), in Introduction to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1948 Rinehart edition, excerpted in Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a Case Study in Critical Controversy, Edited by Gerald Graff and James Phelan (1995) St.
Martins Press pp. 284 – 290 Posted in Mark Twain: Realism and Huckleberry Finn, American Fiction | No Comments » Huckleberry Finn Sponsored Links Huckleberry Finn Youth Find Deals, Read Reviews from Real People. Get the Truth. Then Go. www. TripAdvisor. com Ernest Hemingway wrote that “all modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. …All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.
“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published in 1885, and in that year the public library in Concord, Massachusetts, became the first institution to ban the novel. Twain’s use of the word “nigger” later led some schools and libraries to ban the book. Huckleberry Finn was first attacked during Twain’s day because of what some described as its indecency; later, it would be attacked as racist. But by the end of the twentieth century, its status as one of the greatest of American novels was almost universally recognized. Huck Finn, the protagonist and narrator of the novel, is around thirteen or fourteen years of age.
He is being raised by Miss Watson and the Widow Douglas, both of whom blindly accept the hypocritical religious and moral nature of their society and try to help Huck understand its codes and customs. They represent an artificial life that Huck wishes to escape. Huck’s attempt to help Jim, a runaway slave, reunite with his family makes it difficult for him to understand what is right and wrong. The book follows Huck’s and Jim’s adventures rafting down the Mississippi River, where Huck gradually rejects the values of the dominant society, especially its views on slavery. Bibliography
Blair, Walter. Mark Twain and Huck Finn. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1960. Smith, Henry Nash. Mark Twain: The Development of a Writer. Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press, 1962. Any new collection of essays on Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is quite welcome. With the continuing debates over the novel and its relevance in the classroom, easy access to a variety of viewpoints can only help readers arrive at their own decisions. Katie de Koster’s anthology serves this purpose, offering a range of perspectives from the date of Huckleberry Finn’s publication to the present.
In the Series Foreword, the general editors state that the essays for each volume are chosen specifically for “a young adult audience. ” With this audience in mind, de Koster includes brief summaries of each article in the table of contents, and she groups the essays themselves into thematic sections with descriptive headers. Both arrangements will likely help students locate information and ideas relevant to their interests. On the other hand, many of the essays’ original titles have been changed (and this may prove confusing to some scholars), but original publication information is footnoted on the first page of each essay.
De Koster has arranged the notably diverse essays into four sections: “The Storyteller’s Art,” “Images of America,” “Issues of Race,” and “The Problematic Ending. ” Each section includes four or five essays. The first section includes opinions by Brander Matthews, Victor Doyno, James M. Cox, Alfred Kazin, and Ralph Cohen. Matthews’ 1885 review provides a practical starting point for understanding the novel as well as its shifting literary and historical significance.
Matthews not only praises its realism, the vernacular dialect of Huck, and its humor, but he also admires Twain’s depiction of Southern blacks and Tom Sawyer’s treatment of Jim in the final chapters. Doyno’s selection–excerpted from Writing Huck Finn: Mark Twain’s Creative Process (1991)–focuses on how Twain painstakingly revised the manuscript to shape the individual personalities of each character. Doyno’s excellent and detailed analysis, however, might have served better after Cox’s and Kazin’s more general discussions of Huck’s personality and choices and of Twain’s artistic discoveries and social purposes.
In the final essay of this section, Cohen highlights a topic of probable interest to many college-age readers: the games, tricks, and superstitions of Huckleberry Finn. In the second section, “Images of America,” de Koster chooses essays/excerpts by Horace Fiske, Andrew Hoffman, Gladys Bellamy, and Jay Martin. Fiske’s 1903 appreciation of Huckleberry Finn tends toward summary, paraphrase, and long quotation rather than interpretation, and it seems somewhat out of place in the collection. On the other hand, Hoffman examines Huck as a representative of the nineteenth-century social and political ideals associated with Andrew Jackson.
The excerpt by Bellamy purports to discuss Huckleberry Finn as a satire on American institutions, but the section on the institution of slavery has been removed, and the expressed opinions about race often come across as dated. For example, Bellamy writes that Twain “shows us the African in Jim, imbuing him with a dark knowledge that lies in his blood” (97). Such pronouncements are not well calculated to illuminate young readers’ understanding of Twain’s novel. In the last essay of this section, however, Martin provides a useful and nuanced explanation of Huck’s vacillating position between Nature and Civilization.
The third section, “Issues of Race”, contains essays by John Wallace, Richard Barksdale, Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Eric Lott, and Jane Smiley. Wallace’s oft-quoted essay, in which he describes Huckleberry Finn as “racist trash,” raises several valid concerns regarding the use of the novel in American high schools, but lacks strength in its textual analysis. Nevertheless, his major concern is taken up effectively by Barksdale, who places the novel within its historical context to show both the ironic intentions of Twain and the difficulty of learning and teaching those ironies in the classroom.
Fishkin then explains not only the indebtedness that Twain had toward African American sources, including “Sociable Jimmy,” black spirituals, and personal acquaintances, but also the impact Twain had on subsequent American writers. Exploring this further, Lott discusses how Twain’s reliance upon blackface minstrelsy both allowed the complex achievement of Huckleberry Finn while simultaneously making it “perhaps unteachable to our own time. ” In the final essay of this chapter, Smiley compares “Twain’s moral failure” in his characterization of Jim to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s unequivocal anti-racism in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Overall, this section is the strongest. That these complex understandings of Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn often tend toward the negative comes as something of a surprise after de Koster’s preface. De Koster introduces this collection within the context of the current racial controversy, but then offers a rather emphatic but largely unsupported series of statements. For example, after recounting Huck’s famous decision to “go to hell” and free Jim, she writes, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is clearly antislavery.
The reader is supposed to believe Huck made the right choice when he helped an escaped slave” (13). Instead of telling the reader what s/he is supposed to believe, de Koster would do better to explain her reasoning within the complicated matrix of ideas in her collection. On a more positive note, her preface also includes a 20-page biography of Samuel Clemens that provides a useful introduction for students unfamiliar with his life. In the final section of the collection, “The Problematic Ending,” de Koster includes opinions by Joyce Rowe, Jose Barchilon and Joel Kovel, Carson Gibb, and Richard Hill.
Rowe argues that Twain intentionally destroys the “fictional comforts of verisimilitude” in the final chapters to expose the “grotesque” values of society, including those of the readers. Barchilon and Kovel offer a psychoanalytic interpretation of the escape, interpreting Jim’s prison as a womb, his chains as an umbilical cord, and the Mississippi River as Huck’s loving mother. Gibb justifies the ending as an intentionally bad joke that reflects the culture that Huck seeks to escape, yet the 1960 essay is most noticeable for the repeated use of the word “nigger” without quotation marks.
Gibb seems to feels justified in this usage because he has explained that Huck and Tom “believe niggers and people are two different things” (177). However, its use is unnecessary to his argument and also insensitive to the extreme. Because of this, the essay itself seems inappropriate for a collection aimed at young readers. Finally, Hill presents the most formidable vindication of the final chapters to date, arguing that Huck’s response to Tom is plausible for a boy, and that Jim’s response shows an intelligent manipulation of contemporary stereotypes to exert at least some control over a delicate and dangerous situation.
All in all, de Koster’s collection offers a useful variety of opinions. It will doubtless contribute to current debates of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and its place in our classrooms. About the reviewer: Joe Coulombe grew up in the Mississippi River town of LaCrosse, Wisconsin (mentioned briefly in Life on the Mississippi, ch. 30). After earning his PhD at the University of Delaware in 1998, he began a tenure-track position at the