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Huck Finn

Essay by   •  September 27, 2010  •  3,177 Words (13 Pages)  •  1,578 Views

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Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" was a very enjoyable read. It was my first early American novel and I could not help feel as though I was being swept along the current of the Mississippi sharing in Huck's adventures. I was fortunate enough to travel to New Orleans a few years ago on my first trip to the American south. Huck's narrations while powerful in their own right, were that much more meaningful because of my own experiences.

While Twain ironically proclaims that there is no theme in the preface, there is a very strong theme that satirically is inescapable in the way society's rules can stifle individual freedom of expression and thought. While at first I found the diction to be very confusing and even frustrating at times, it later seemed almost vital in order to make the narration believable, controversial, shocking, and powerful. One believes the adventures to be true because we can envision these types of discussions taking place in the mid south at that time.

The multitude of adventures, told in the first person in a concise and simplistic manner was very appealing. My own province of Newfoundland has a very rich and distinctive culture, with numerous strong dialects, and storytelling is a very big part of that culture.

I like the fact that the novel is controversial, and challenges the mainstream views of society. Many have debated over the years whether Twain's novel is a masterpiece or subversive trash. It has been argued that it is "rough, coarse, inelegant, and exerts a dangerous influence on the young." (Concord, Massachusetts, library committee). However, the reality is this is a part of life whether we like to admit it or not. If one chooses to look beyond the lies, If one chooses to look beyond the lies, bad language and criminal activity what shines through is a strong social messages meant for society as a whole.

Many have questioned whether the persistent use of the word "nigger" makes Huckleberry Finn racist. I think, it has to be put into the context of the entire novel and the underlying theme. The novel portrays the worst society has to offer through the innocent and impressionable eyes of a thirteen year old boy. The book is shocking, the behaviors and attitudes towards a cast society are appalling and shameful, and should be our central focus for debate. While no one today should tolerate the use of the word in a derogatory sense, its use in the novel is vital. We should be ashamed of racism in any form, and be willing to take about it in a constructive manner so that the world can be more enlightened. Others have stated, and I happen to agree that because we have not managed to eradicate racism from our society, the word is still so hurtful. One would be naive to think that African Americans, as well other sects of society, such as with gays, are not confronted by prejudice today. Perhaps not as overtly, since society does not sanction it as it once did, but it still raises its ugly head from time to time and brings out the darker side of all of us. It is easy to say that this book, along with similar ones, should be banned. However, that would be too easy. We, as a society, would then not have to face our own ugly past. However, if we do not, as the saying goes, we are bound to repeat it in some form or another. Even in Twain's time, he knew that the word "nigger" was a racial slur, and to clean up the language would detract from the powerful message that he was trying to send. The fact that the novel is so controversial and confrontational makes it a powerful tool towards social justice. It has been said that if we sanitize the past we forego the rawness of its pain, but also the force of its lessons." Twain painstakingly chose his words carefully, and made every effort to be factual, and if we tamper with the language we will significantly detract from its message. Twain's words say it much more elegantly than I ever could:

"It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger - but I done it, and I warn't ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I did'nt do him no more tricks, and I would'nt done that one if I'd a knowed it would make him feel that way."

Huck, part outcast and part rebel, is a realistic character that one can relate to and feel empathy toward. Many have since referred to him as a "rogue hero" since his character matures as he travels along the river. Huck is the type of person who "What you see is what you get". He is not larger than life and is negatively impacted by his environment. There are many times throughout the novel were you feel sorry for him, since for every step forward he takes there is virtually everyone with the exception of Jim, including his friend Tom Sawyer, forcing him to take two backwards. He loves nature and does not want to be a part of normal society, since most of so called "normal" society appears unnatural in his own mind. For example, he finds upper class clothing "stifling", school too restrictive, laws too prohibitive, and the so called "noble and spiritually enlightened" cruel and narrow minded.

Huck is extremely adaptable and tolerant. He has the ability to change things under his control and the wisdom to accept those things which although cruel and silly are beyond his abilities. He has to tolerate living "civilized" with the widow Douglas, adapt to being cruelly victimized by his father in the woods, living life on the raft, and living from rags to riches in the Grangefords. His ability to adapt to cruel and bizarre situations, speaks to the strength of his character and is exemplified in the numerous inner conflicts he struggles with over freeing Jim. His ability to take on new identities (ie: planned his own death and rebirth on the river, posed as a girl and Tom Sawyer) seems to be his internal means to protect himself from the cruelties of society and its ways. He is "street smart", in that he has the ability to analyze people, such as the Duke and King, the murderers on the "Walter Scott", as well as Tom, and accept them for who they are, and in fact, shows empathy for them when most others would not. What is perhaps most appealing and ironic, is the way in which he is so hard on himself. Even when he decides at the end to follow his own heart, he is convinced that he is a bad human being for not conforming to society. He concedes that it's fate and nothing he can do can change it.

Huck's lying is quite interesting. In own sense, it is a defense mechanism to shield him against the cruelties and social injustices which are beyond the control of a young thirteen year old boy. What is interesting is that he is a

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