Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
I don't remember why--maybe it was our fall visit to the Mark Twain house, or some reference to the novel--but B decided he wanted to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I insisted on two things: first, that we watch a movie adaptation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, as background (so we know how Huck got his fortune), and second, that he reads an authentic, uncensored version of the novel. He easily found that in the B&N classics display, thank goodness. However, I finished my last book before B finished his, and so I happened to pick it up and start reading. I never read it before, and although I was supposed to read Tom Sawyer in school, I don't think I ever finished it.

The story is, of course, of the hoodlum kid who strikes out on a raft down the Mississippi River with an escaped slave, Jim. They have three major adventures (SPOILER!):
  1. Huck lodges a while with a family that's feuding with another family.
  2. Huck and two carpetbaggers they pick up run a scam to steal money from some orphaned girls.
  3. After Jim is captured, Huck and Tom scheme his escape.
It was exciting and fun! I enjoyed it and could see why it's so beloved. I liked the relationship between Huck and Jim, and how Huck struggles through the story about the right thing to do. (Should he follow the rules and turn Jim in, or should he follow his heart and help Jim escape?) It's nice to witness a wild kid consulting his conscience. Not something you see every day (on TV and whatnot).

I had two problems (or questions). First, while Huck's character is finely crafted and relatable, Jim is more of a caricature, witless and oafish, though kind and gentle. He's easily fooled by the many farces he encounters. Why? At first, I thought maybe Twain was trying too hard to make us like him, because he is so childish and disarming that he's lovable. But more likely, Twain did this on purpose, though I can't figure out why, exactly. Maybe it was part of the satire, the irony, but it's hard to tell without knowing much about the context in which the book was written.

My second issue also stems from not knowing the context, I think. The third adventure, of planning Jim's escape, got boring. As soon as Tom Sawyer came on the scene, he started complicating matters, making the jailbreak more difficult than it needed to be. I started to hate Tom for that. Why would Twain bog down a good story with a dragging climax? The introduction suggests that perhaps it was Twain's commentary on the dragging nature of reconstruction, how the government freed the slaves, but then enabled terrible restrictions on the rights of black Americans. I'd buy that. But I kind of wish I had a class discussion to tease out the specifics.

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