Posted by Mike
I’ve just finished reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I honestly don’t know if I’d ever read it before. What’s clear is that if I did I didn’t remember any of it. I didn’t read any of the critics’ comments in the preface prior to reading the novel; I didn’t want to be influenced. As you probably know it’s a picaresque novel, a series of adventures and misadventures, held together by a tenuous story. The central theme is that Huck is accomplishing two things at one time: he’s helping the escaped slave Jim to find his freedom at the same time that he is obtaining his own freedom from a life of convention with the Widow Douglas. Some of the adventures are pretty realistic; some are downright silly and so exaggeratedly over the top that this reader was put off by them. I’d call it a comic romance. The comedy part comes from the humor inserted by the writer into the situations and speech; the romance is falling in love with freedom, with the open road in a sense – in this case, the big wide, slow-moving, inexorable superhighway, the Mississippi River.
Like a lot of today’s readers I’m sure, I had some problems with Clemens’ frequent use of the “N” word. The review I read concluded that Clemens very definitely wasn’t a racist, and I’m convinced of that myself. Despite his upbringing as a poor white Southerner, Huck was out to help save Jim; that was apparent from the beginning, and his attitude toward the outcome confirmed that. In his ruminations, Huck vacillated regarding whether or not he was doing the right thing, but this was the writer’s way of reflecting to the reader the ingrained learnings of the white Southerner re race relations. If it had been a tragedy, which would have been a more realistic outcome of the events, given the time and place, when the two finally would have been caught, Jim would have either been returned to his owner or sold again into slavery – or worse. And Huck would have taken his licks, too. But we don’t have a tragedy, do we, so such a dark, more realistic ending wouldn’t do.
I don’t read novels very often. If you’ve read my earlier postings, you may remember what I said about reading Of Human Bondage last year. That’s a really long novel that reads like an autobiography, which it is to some extent. I got so involved that I was terribly worried about the protagonist when he was having some rough times. Well, can you believe, it happened again! Towards the end of this story, when Huck and Jim were nearing the end of the road, which would have been New Orleans, I began to worry: “What’s going to happen to Jim. There’s no way out, now.” That would have been the tragic ending. Clemens couldn’t do that, so he injected kind of a deus ex machina to help wind things up. Also, at the very end of the story, Tom Sawyer (yes, he’s there, too) is trying to lure Huck into another hair-brained romantic fantasy scheme of his. I practically said out loud, “No Huck. Don’t listen to him! Get away. Get away!”
If like me you’ve never read Huckleberry Finn, or you did but it was long ago, take it up again. It’s a good read.