Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain represents a novel that contains a variety of Gothic attributes, although it is not often classified as Southern Gothic. Although Twain seems to be most venerated as the nineteenth century's greatest humorist, I would argue that his ability to weave realism, satire, and local color together classifies him as an author who contributed to the evolution between the Gothic of Poe and the Grotesque of O'Connor.

Although I have read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn many times, I encountered something different during this subsequent reading. Both the picaresque fashion in which the novel unfolds and the coming of age aspect of the work always leaves an impression upon me; however, I was struck, this time, by the overall darkness of the novel. Twain's well-incorporated humor masks a good deal of the grim events that ensue, and, in effect, make the novel palatable. However, I believe that when many people think of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn they envision Huck embarking on a innocent and imaginative boyhood journey. Many fail to acknowledge the weighty themes of the novel.

Most notably, Twain incorporates a profuse amount of violence into the novel. Indeed, he seems to toy with the notion that young boys have a fascination with violent high-spirited pursuits, which always proves true whenever Tom Sawyer appears in the novel, especially in the latter third. Huck also possesses these sentiments, but they are mild compared to the times when the ever-reliable catalyst, Tom Sawyer, shows up: during Huck's voyage on the Mississippi River, his time away from Mr. Sawyer, he undergoes the most growth in character and does little to initiate any violent events. Huck does exhibit his obsession for violence is other ways, though. Huck's narration strikes me as very Gothic because of his affinity for violent events, blood, and gore. Although the brutal events that unfold seem to captivate Huck at first, the same does not hold true for Huck when he finds himself in the midst of the cross-fire. His youth, at first, and his maturity, later in the novel, can both be attributed to these feelings. Indeed, Huck, through his initiation, comes to understand the horror of violence, instead of the fanciful boyhood scenarios that he once dreamt of prior to his journey.

Additionally, I think that its of interest to point out the number of violent episodes that appear throughout the novel: Huck's kidnapping by Pap, Huck's attempt to fakes his death, the steamboat robbery, Pap's death, the Sherperdson and Grangerford Feud, the Sherburn-Boggs Incident, and Tom Sawyer's gunshot injury. This is by no means a master list; it simply points out the fact that violence is virtually ubiquitous throughout the novel.

Another aspect of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that carries in the same vein of the Southern Gothic genre is the oppression of African Americans. Jim, the ever-fateful and dutiful slave, is depicted by Twain with the utmost humanity, while remaining honest in his portrayal of Jim's character as a black male in antebellum America. Through the character of Jim, Twain records the African American experience during this times period. Jim, beyond anything else, aspires to keep his family in tact. When he fears that he will be sold without his family, he flees North to secure his title as a freedman, recieve a job, and buy his family from the bonds of slavery. Jim is denied much because of his skin color; however, he stands to loose contact with his own immediate kin. Likewise, Jim faces the preconceptions of his vile and immoral character based on his status as a black male. Twain illustrates this point through the relationship between Huck and Jim at various stages throughout the work: the trash scene, the raft scene, and the "you can't pray a lie" scene. Huck comes to view Jim not as a black man, but as his best friend. Due to the trials that they face on the Mississippi River, Huck witnesses Jim's faithful loyalty in the most precarious of situations; thus, Huck is able to cast aside the naturalistic forces that taught him to subordinate African Americans. Instead, Huck comes to view Jim as a endearing companion, a father-figure, and a true friend.

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