Alex's Reviews > The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
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Sep 29, 10

bookshelves: 2010, particularly-drunk-reviews, great-american-novels
Read in September, 2010

** spoiler alert ** In coincidental honor of Banned Book Week!

Huck Finn is miles weightier than Tom Sawyer, and it's almost the Great American Novel it's called. Tom Sawyer was all fun and games - Don Quixote, as he points out himself, "all adventures and more adventures." Huck Finn's a different person; he's concerned with doing the right thing. He spends most of the novel helping a runaway slave escape, and he brilliantly represents a person judging the morals of society against the morals he's come up with himself, and ending up in the right place. That's why Huck Finn isn't a racist novel: Twain means to show us how a person who approaches life honestly will come out against racism. He's not subtle about it.

And Twain pulls off this wonderful reversal near the end of the book: Sawyer suddenly reappears on the scene, pulling the same hijinks he always has, but now we see it through Huck's and Jim's eyes, and it's maddening. Huck wants to find the most direct solution to the problem of freeing Jim, who's been recaptured. Tom wants to complicate things, as he always does; rather than just pulling a loose board out and making off, Tom insists on digging under the wall, and loosing bugs into Jim's prison so he can be properly prisonerish, and finally warning the family about the impending escape to make the whole thing more dangerous.

While Sawyer did horrible things in his own book - most notably faking his own death so his Aunt Polly could about die of sadness - we forgave him then because the book was a lark, told through his eyes, and we understood that it was all about fun. Twain takes a leap in Huck Finn, showing us an adult world and then showing us what real stakes look like when Tom Sawyer gets a hold of them, and it's devastating to watch Tom toy with Jim's life this way. This radical flip is one of Twain's best moves, and it elevates Huck Finn considerably.

But Jim, for all his humanity, is still problematic. He never drives anything forward himself, and his passivity makes me uncomfortable. He's certainly shown to be kind, and we're allowed to see him weeping for his separated wife and children, and we get to see his heavily allegorical refusal to allow Tom to throw rattlesnakes into his prison to make it more realistic. We're allowed into Jim's humanity, yeah, but he never gets to drive the plot. At the end, when he realizes that he'd been a free man all along, and Huck didn't know it but Tom did and Tom was just playing...I wanted a moment of anger from him. Didn't he deserve it? Shouldn't Jim have had a moment when he said, "What about my wife and children?"

In making Jim the co-lead but giving him no action, Twain failed Jim, and in failing Jim, Twain failed to write the Great American Novel - because the Great American Novel is about black people, too, and they're not just along for the ride. Almost, Twain!
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Comments (showing 1-20 of 20) (20 new)

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Newengland What? You haven't read Huckleberry Finn after 36 years on the planet?


message 2: by Alex (last edited Sep 17, 2010 08:35PM) (new) - added it

Alex Ha...no, I've read it like three times. But always as a kid! Huck Finn, and a little less, Tom Sawyer, had a huge impact on me as a child. (For whatever reason, I read Huck Finn long before Tom Sawyer.)

I've tried not to rate or even add books that I read when I was young, 'cause I'm not sure I can back that opinion up as an adult; it's been too long. I'm gonna read it again soon as part of Twainfest. Really excited for it. I re-read Tom Sawyer this summer, and it was even better than I remembered; since Huck Finn is considered Twain's apogee, I have the highest hopes.

Nice to see you, Reading guy; I'm a fan of New England too. And Tolstoy.


Newengland How could you not like Tolstoy and New England (which go together like... oh, never mind).

Is there a separate HUCK thread going up, or do the messy discussions just get folded into the catch-all Twainfest thread?

I've read the book multiple times, too -- more than Tom's book, surely. Oddly, my memory of it is that it creates an idealized boyhood as I wish I had it.

But wait a minute! The kid has an alcoholic father who locks him up and comes after him with an axe! (I think his dad was a Tea Party dude, because he keeps ranting about the "Gov'ment!" or something). Guess I need to revisit "idealized" in the dictionary, eh?


message 4: by Alex (new) - added it

Alex Yeah, the whole discussion will be in the Twain thread. And almost no one will end up actually reading it anyway, and it'll be very disappointing.


Newengland I pulled my copy out. If I read, I'll be like 15 people. Which could get annoying (or so the wife tells me).

By the way, I have Quixote envy. This book I've tried THREE times to tackle, though never in the translation you're in. I reached the windmills, anyway. And no one did any singing, thank God! (If Cervantes were alive today, maybe he'd satirize Broadway instead of Courtly Love (Kurt Cobain's old squeeze, no?)


message 6: by Alex (new) - added it

Alex Heh. I'm actually enjoying most of Don Quixote, although it has its slow passages. Cool book.


Cindy This is your best review yet, Alex!

** spoiler quote **
"Twain takes a leap in Huck Finn, showing us an adult world and then showing us what real stakes look like when Tom Sawyer gets a hold of them, and it's devastating to watch Tom toy with Jim's life this way. This radical flip is one of Twain's best moves, and it elevates Huck Finn considerably."

Wow. that's it.


Newengland You're in good company. Hemingway hated "The Return of Tom Sawyer," too. Still, he was kind enough to still call it "The Great American Novel." Me, I'm inclined to think Twain's treatment of Jim reflects the reality of his day -- slaves were passive, for the most part, trained to survive that way. And he does, after all, run for it.

Anyway, great review. Can you think of any other novel deserving of the title "Great American Novel"? I can't, and so, by default, warts and all, it remains Twain's....


message 9: by Alex (new) - added it

Alex Well, I found this list on Amazon, which I thought had some good nominees on it. The ones I've read, I didn't think were perfect...so I think we're still waiting.


message 10: by Alex (new) - added it

Alex And excellent point, too...I have thoughts on that but Sons of Anarchy is on, I'll have to come back to this later.


Silvana Totally agree, I love Huck as a character (and story/plotlines) better than Tom.
Speaking about Great American novels, what do you think about Uncle Tom's Cabin?


message 12: by Alex (new) - added it

Alex I'm ashamed to admit I've never read it. Weird, huh? I think I will in the near future, though; it certainly ties into my concerns about Jim being portrayed as...well, as an Uncle Tom. I'd like to re-read Life & Times of Frederick Douglass while I'm at it. Make a little theme of it.

NE, you've articulated my big reservation about my own argument. In a way, my concern comes down to the fact that Twain doesn't portray Jim the way I'd like him to portray Jim, and that seems unfair, right? While there were certainly many pissed off slaves who would have raged against Tom, there were also many slaves who took a different tack, and Jim is one. It's not like he's unrealistic; he just doesn't do what I want him to.

But then, I'm holding Twain to exceptionally high standards here; I'm not judging Huck Finn as a book, or even as a classic, but as The Great American Novel. So maybe I have a right to say that he failed to show black people in enough detail and complexity.

It's a very tough debate, really.


message 13: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (last edited Sep 30, 2010 10:45AM) (new) - added it

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads Erm. I think Uncle Tom's Cabin is historically a very important novel; but I don't think it's aged particularly well.

I shall be interested to see your impressions of it, Alex.


Newengland Uncle Tom's Cabin, in its day, was #2 only to The Bible in its sales. Incredible, when you consider it's "one of the most well-known books no one's read" these days. I haven't read it, either, though I've heard about it plenty because Harriet Beecher Stowe's house in Hartford is only a few hundred feet from Mark Twain's house. Toured both. They don't compare.

Alex, I agree. Your point about Jim (or Twain's treatment of him) is a good one and you have every right to say it. Hope my post didn't come across otherwise (I'll have to reread it, maybe).


message 15: by Alex (new) - added it

Alex Oh no, man, not at all. I really appreciated the debate.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads I've read it. I'm glad I have, as it is really important historically, but I can't say I enjoyed it. If you're interested in 19th-century America, it's probably a must-read, though, as it explains a lot of other stuff.


Susan Great review Alex. I completed my reread yesterday. Jim's passiveness seemed to be a product of his environment. I pictured Huck and Jim having a teeth gritting conversation later. They were already rolling their eyes over the escape nonsense. The "king" betraying Jim and Huck for $40 really bothered me. I think we may be more advanced as a culture but still have parasites like the "king" and the "duke" trolling through our communities.


message 18: by Alex (last edited Oct 01, 2010 12:25PM) (new) - added it

Alex We sure do, Susan. Only now they call themselves congressmen. :)


message 19: by Newengland (last edited Oct 02, 2010 02:08AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Newengland Since Obama became President, Kings and Dukes have come out of the American woodwork! I've never seen a more agitated King/Duke constituency -- on cable TV, over talk radio, and certainly in the comments sections of on-line newspapers.

Tea, anybody?


message 20: by Reid (new) - rated it 4 stars

Reid Enjoyable review, AND you were drunk?! Yeah, Sawyer is like a kid's book. I only read Huck Finn in school, too, know I have to read it again. Will now be looking out toward the end. Only read 4.2 books on that Great American Novel list. The zombie list cracked me up, nice typing!


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