MCOH's Reviews > The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
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Mar 06, 2009

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Read in March, 2009

I had mixed feelings about this book.

On the one hand, it's clear that Mark Twain was progressive for his day, satirizing the topsy-turvy morals of the slavery-era south. His heroes are two people at the bottom rung of the social ladder - a runaway slave, and the son of the town drunk. Though they're not valued by society, they turn out to be the two most honorable characters of the book. And I appreciated the questions it raised, about how we construct our own sense of morality in the context of broader social morals, and how we deal with potential conflicts between those two. I loved Huck for choosing to go to hell rather than turn in his friend.

On the other hand, it's such a far-fetched farce, with so many over-the-top scenes, one crazy situation after another, so many coincidences, such silliness, that I had a hard time enjoying it. At the end, Tom keeps adding all kinds of superfluous details into the escape plan, just to satisfy his sense of drama. The author seems to think this will be amusing - see how it's a funny game to Tom, see how he's influenced by all the adventure books he's ever read... And I just wanted to smack the kid, and say, "A man's life is in danger! How dare you treat this like a game of make-believe! Just get him out of there, you idiot!"

The humor reminded me a lot of Candide. That style (social satire, ironic farce, fable, whatever you want to call it) can be a great way to make a point. But it's not the same as a novel with well-developed characters and a realistic plot.

Sometimes I enjoy satire, but yesterday, I just wasn't in the mood. I felt like the atrocities committed in our country against African-Americans were just too horrific to laugh at.

I have heard that people often protest this book when it appears on school curricula, because of the repeated use of the n-word. I think I had an easier time accepting that word, because it reflected the common usage of the time, and it felt like part of the natural, authentic voice of the narrator. I had a harder time with the portrayal of Jim as a naive, superstitious, gullible, person, who seems completely dependent on a young white boy to figure out what to do. Jim is good, but he doesn’t come across as particularly smart. He's more an archetype - the noble savage - than a real person.

I think the main value of this book is as a historical artifact. You can see the important role it played if you look at what it was for the time it was written in, and how it influenced other books written in America. But I don’t think it could get published today. I'm glad to say, we've come a long way.

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Comments (showing 1-16 of 16) (16 new)

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Lisa Nelson What a great review. You summed up how I feel about the book in a much more eloquent way!

MCOH Oh, you're nice, Lisa. I don't think I was too articulate at book club. I hope I didn't offend anybody.

Imelda Great review. I felt the same way.

MCOH Thanks, Imelda!

Thomas Bell I like your review, but you have to realize something. It would be terrible to portray Jim as an educated person. Do you realize that runaway slaves were NOT educated? They were encouraged to talk the way they did and believe in the things they did. Just FYI, the portrayal of Jim is quite realistic and was not in any way an attempt to portray Blacks as a lower class of people.

MCOH Hmm, you might be right. I guess I'd need to do more research to understand what a realistic portrayal would look like. Thanks for your input.

Thelisia This is exactly what I thought of the book. This review is perfect.

MCOH I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for commenting!

message 9: by Ana (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ana Great review!

message 10: by Ana (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ana Great review!

message 11: by MCOH (new) - rated it 3 stars

MCOH Thanks, Ana!

Olivia I really disliked the way Jim was portrayed as well. However, it got me thinking that maybe Jim was meant to satirize the common thinking of the time- that slaves were, as you put it, naive and savage. Despite this thought, I think it would have been more affective to portray Jim as a human being with people around him making those accusations.

message 13: by MCOH (new) - rated it 3 stars

MCOH Thanks for taking the time to comment, Olivia! I feel like even if Jim were uneducated, he'd have had some basic sense and wisdom acquired throughout his life. It felt offensive to show him so completely hapless and dependent. But maybe you're right about the satire. If that was the author's intention, I guess I just have to say it didn't work too well for me.

Sally Forth It was the beginning of the Gilded Age and the end of the Civil War. People had to re-evaluate their lives. I do not agree that everything was over the top, Visit Missouri sometime. it has not changed much

message 15: by Ash (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ash Connell Have you read Toni Morrison's review of the book? It's fascinating.

message 16: by MCOH (new) - rated it 3 stars

MCOH I just read it right now, on your recommendation. Thanks for that! Well worth reading. I'm going to put a link here, because it's quite a bit more intelligent and interesting than my review.

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