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Review: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published in 1885 and written by the famous Mark Twain.

This novel is set in the south of the United States of America during the plantation era, roughly 1835-45. The action takes place along the Mississippi river. The novel is a direct sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876).

The plot follows the various adventures of a boy called Huckleberry Finn who runs away from his abusive father; escaping by faking his own death. He is accompanied by a runaway slave called Jim who was the slave of a woman Huck lived with before being kidnapped by his own father. The two travel down the Mississippi river, further into the south and have adventures, escaping capture and death many times. The book is narrated by Huck himself.

This novel is known as one of the first works of American Literature to be written in vernacular English. This makes it a bit more difficult to read, especially as an English person with not a lot of reference points to specific southern accents. Twain also makes use of black accents from the time, for example, ‘Yes-en I’s rich now, come to look at it. I owns mysef, en I’s wuth eight hund’d dollars. I wisht I had de money, I wouldn’ want no’. Though a bit troublesome, they do add texture and character to the narrative.

Honestly, I expected more from this American classic. It is essentially a children’s adventure book and, in my opinion, is a tad too long. There are some fun characters such as Huck himself and the two swindlers him and Jim meet along the way. The descriptions of the various ways the two men trick the small-town people they meet are funny.

the-widows-_kemble

The original illustrations for Huckleberry Finn were very popular. There were 174 in the novel and they were created by Edward W. Kemble.

One of the reasons this is lauded as a classic is its supposed satire on racism. But how much does this come across? I think time has dulled the sharpness. The racial slur ‘nigger’ is used throughout – which is of the time admittedly. There is a definite tension between racial stereotypes and the anti-slavery vibe throughout. The treatment of Jim, the runaway slave, is comic and Twain does use racial stereotypes. Jim is uneducated and ignorant (even when compared to 12-year-old Huck) and he is very superstitious.

There are interesting moments when Huck wrestles with his instincts to value Jim as a friend and human and the things he has been taught about slaves/black people.He has revelations such as, ‘I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their’n’. That this fact had to be recorded is difficult to read nowadays when such things are taken for granted. These moments show how deeply entrenched such views were at this time. For example, Huck believes he will go to hell for not turning Jim in.

I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then, I’ll go to hell… I let them stay; and never thought no more about reforming

Generally, I felt that Twain didn’t rise above the stereotypes of black people that white readers expected at the time in his actual depictions of those characters. However, this does not mean that white people are shown to be superior. Characters such as the two swindlers – the duke and the dauphin – Huck’s awful father are certainly presented as morally ‘less’ than Jim.

The river and its surroundings are described vividly and, often, beautifully. There is a respect for the beauty and power of nature.

There was freckled places on the ground where the light sifted down through the leaves, and the freckled places swapped about a little, showing there was a little breeze up there. A couple of squirrels set on a limb and jabbered at me very friendly

in-the-cave-_kemble

Jim and Huck as drawn by Kemble. All illustrations are available to view on twain.lib.virginia.edu. 

Would I recommend this book? Meh. I won’t be re-reading it anytime soon.

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