Exploring The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Many critics have explored the complexities and controversial themes of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Most critics point out obvious themes of truth and honesty, as well as the important theme of slavery, and racism. Upon exploring Huckleberry Finn, the reader is brought into view, two outline articles that relate to most of the important controversial themes presented in the novel. In addition, the reader is presented an article dealing with the important role of the character Jim, and how Jim has a profound impact on Huckleberry Finns character.
The Role of Jim in Huckleberry Finn by Frances V. Brownell presents the reader with the important role of Jim, and how Jim brings out Huckleberry Finns Character. Brownell explains, Jims function is to further the characterization of Huckleberry Finn: by his presence, his personality, actions and his words(Brownell1). Simply, Jim illuminates Huckleberry Finns character, so that the reader can establish a strong connection with him. Brownell uses several good examples to explain how, and why.
According to Brownell, it is Jims openness and unashamed dignity that facilitates Hucks own struggle with morals(Brownell1). Brownell illustrates through the example in which Huck lies to Jim while heading downstream on the raft. It is in this incident, through the character of Jim, we discover Huck carries within him some respect for human dignity. Simply, Huck lied to Jim and felt terrible for it. This concern for hurting others is learned through Hucks many interactions with Jim.
It is through the open honesty of Jim that we discover the honest side of Huck Finn. Throughout the novel, Huck Finn is a character that is constantly on the defensive. It is through Hucks relationship with the Widow Douglas, the Duke and King, as well his Pap that we see a defensive, dishonest side to his character. On several accounts Huck has to be dishonest with these people to get where he wants to go. However, it is Hucks time with Jim floating down the Mississippi River that we see the more honest, tender side of Hucks character.
Jim is not only a friend to Huck in the novel. He is more like a mentor that guides Huck through a dark, quarrelsome world. However, Jim and Hucks friendship present only a few small angles to the complexities of the Novel. In An overview of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Pearl James many of these complexities are examined.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have always presented many controversial topics. Many critics have condemned the novel on grounds of racial, social, and economic class. At the same time, the novel has been characterized as somewhat of an all American tale. Many critics have rejected the novel due to it portrayal of a slave, and a poor uneducated boy, which are supposed to represent typical America citizens. The more positive point of view however, points to the expression of, characters without social advantages trying to make good(James1).
Many important themes of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, our represented through Twains use of language, and dialect. Twain uses language to define the social, and cultural side of the nature of the characters. The language can at some times make these characters more believable, intricate, and dignified. Throughout the novel, Twain captures the speech of the time, which in turn gives the story a more realistic quality.
In addition, according to James, Twain brings a bit of comedy, as well as a bit of romance to the novel. Twain merges the elements of comedy and romance, by using picaresque. Picaresque is defined as comedy on the road, or the traveling adventure. This picaresque technique of writing that Twain uses, allows romance to take place, while at the same time keeping the novel realistic. As Huck and Jim travel down the Mississippi, and encounter the various characters, such as the feuding families, the Duke, etc. Twain takes these encounters and connects them with the picaresque structure, which gives way to much variation, and adventure, according to James. James also touches on the fact, that Twain uses much of his childhood experience in providing much of the detail on life on the river.
According to James, Jims character is the determining factor in understanding the problem with the novels ending(James2). James adds, one way of thinking about this problem, is to ask whether Huckleberry Finn seems to go in a line, or in a circle(James2)? This is where James article agrees with, and ties in with the aforementioned article by Brownell. Both critics acknowledge, the importance of Jims character. However, the problem with the ending, according to James, is how Huck even after spending all the time with Jim on the river, fails to acknowledge Jim as a man. James quotes Toni Morrison, freedom has no meaning to Huck or to the text without the specter of enslavement, the anodyne to individualism; the yardstick of absolute power over the life of another; the signed, marked, informing, and mutating presence of a black slave. Jim and his family are still slaves, yet Huck is allowed to do whatever he wants to do, and go wherever he wants to go.
One very important aspect of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the historical context. The novel was written during a very controversial time in American History. James adds that the novel was written before the abolition of slavery, however much of the novel speaks to a post- Civil War audience. For example, the King and Duke represent a stereotype of Northerners coming to prey on the defeated south, which in fact was a post-Civil War stereotype. Another example, is Jims representation of happy darky, which was a white man playing a black man on stage. Both are strong examples of how Twain was possibly writing to a later audience then he originally intended.
Pearl James concludes with Mark Twains use of irony, and satire. Twain uses Hucks naive nature to make observations about Southern culture, as well as human nature. However according to James, it is Twains use of irony that complicates the question of race and racism in the world of Huckleberry Finn(James3).
Guy A. Cardwells overview touches on many of the same important themes; that Pearl James overview touches on. However, Cardwells article addresses more of the structure, compared to Jamess article, which addresses more of the language presented in the novel. Both critics agree however, Twains use of picaresque in the novel. Cardwell explains, it has always been described as a romance, a social novel, a realistic novel, a symbolic novel, and a psychological novel(Cardwell2).
In addition, both critics agree that its in the ending chapters that we see the principal flaw in the novel. Cardwell remarks, Adverse criticism charges the last three chapters with destroying the credibility of Hucks moral maturation; he loses sight of his discovery that men are often vicious and hypocritical, and he fails to demonstrate any reasonable accommodation with society(Cardwell2) With that said, the major theme of freedom is basically put to shame. What exactly is freedom? Upon reading the novel, the reader may have a difficult time understanding what freedom truly is.
The adventures of Huckleberry Finn stir up many arguments, and controversy. Through the three-presented articles, the reader observes how Mark Twain holds a certain amount of responsibility in representing such a historic time period. Without Twains representation of language, racism, and slavery one would have a difficult time understanding the true nature of the novel. Twain undoubtedly had to portray racism and slavery how it actually was. Without representing these controversial subjects, Twain would be doing an injustice to American History, and all those who suffered effects of slavery, and racism.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Champaign, Ill. (P.O. Box 2782, Champaign 61825) Project Gutenberg.
James, Pearl. An overview of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Exploring Novels, Gale, 1998.
Cardwell, Guy. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Overview. Reference Guide to American Literature, 3rd ed, edited by Jim Kamp, St. James Press, 1994
Brownell, Frances. The Role of Jim in Huckleberry Finn. Boston Studies in English, Vol1, 1955