Typically when you hear “19th century literature,” you think of the formal and monotonous, yet gramatically and contextually correct writing of authors such as Charles Dickens and Harriet Beecher Stowe; but one author stood out among them and his name was Mark Twain. Twain started a new trend of including new aspects of writing into his pieces such as voice, dialect, and satire. The one particular book written by Mark Twain that is known to be the beginning of American literature called The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, contains all three of these aspects.
In the book, Twain uses the main character and narrator, Huck, to utilize his voice, dialect, and satire. Huck serves as a satirical mouthpiece for the author’s attitude by fulfilling his role as the naive narrator. There is a specific passage in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that accurately portrays the satire that Twain is trying to bestow upon the reader involving a character by the name of Emmeline Grangerford, a sentimental artist.
Huck is inspecting the art of Emmeline and expressing his feelings about them in the text.
If you read Huck’s explanations without examining the underlying meanings you will find that Huck is completely clueless as to the artists’ sentimental intentions. He evaluates one picture called “Shall I Never See Thee More Alas” by describing a woman “under a weeping willow” (Twain 119) in a graveyard, another picture with a woman “crying into a handkerchief” (Twain 119), and yet another with a crying woman about to jump off a bridge.
All three of these illustrations are obvious cliches of sentimental art of the 19th century.
Huck looks at the images and simply sees “nice pictures” (Twain 119), not realizing the intent of the artist, Emmeline. This is an excellent example of Huck’s role as the naive narrator. His lack of understanding provides a completely different take on the art than Mark Twain actually feels. Twain’s main intention of the passage is to poke fun at the sentimentalists’ artwork. He includes Huck’s explanations such as bulges on a dress “like a cabbage” (Twain 119), and “black slippers, like a chisel” (Twain 119) to mock the sentimental art which was poplular at the time that he wrote the book.
Writing the passage in Huck’s point of view allowed Twain to add satire to the story by making Huck’s comments so cliche and ridiculous that it is obvious that this is not actually the way that Twain feels about the sentimental artwork. This is why the character of Huck, being as clueless as he is in the book, is necessary for him to serve as the author’s satirical mouthpiece. Huckleberry Finn is certainly not the typical narrator of a book.
To understand the context of the writing, one must decipher what is actually occuring in the story and what Huck thinks is occuring because of his role as the naive narrator. Although this makes the book more difficult to comprehend, it also makes it more interesting to read and allows the author, Mark Twain, to include such factors of voice, dialect, and satire. The narrator’s conception of the storyline is extremely important to the book. Huck serves as a satirical mouthpiece for the author’s attitude by fulfilling his role as the naive narrator.
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