David's Reviews > Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
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's review
Feb 27, 2010

really liked it

After reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I realized that I had absolutely nothing to say about it. And yet here, as you see, I have elected to say it anyway, and at great length.

Reading this novel now, at the age of mumble-mumble, is a bit like arriving at the circus after the tents have been packed, the bearded lady has been depilated, and the funnel cake trailers have been hitched to pick-up trucks and captained, like a formidable vending armada, toward the auburn sunset. All the fun has already been used up, and I’m left behind circumnavigating the islands of elephant dung and getting drunk on Robitussin®. Same story, different day.

How exactly did I make it through eight total years of high school and undergraduate studies in English without having read any Mark Twain but a brief (and forgotten) excerpt from Life on the Mississippi? Isn’t this illegal by now? I mean, isn’t there a clause in the Patriot Act... an eleventh commandment... a dictate from Xenu? Isn’t Huckleberry Finn, like Romeo and Juliet and To Kill a Mockingbird, now an unavoidable teenage road bump between rainbow parties and huffing spray paint? Isn’t it the role of tedious classic literature to add color and texture to the pettiness of an adolescence circumscribed by status updates, muff shaving, and shooting each other? Or am I old-fashioned?

Let’s face it. In the greater social consciousness, there are two stars of this book: (1) the word 'nigger' and (2) the Sherwood Schwartz-style ending in which Tom Sawyer reappears and makes even the most casual reader wonder whether he might not be retarded.

Huckleberry Finn, for all his white trash pedigree, is actually a pretty smart kid -- the kind of dirty-faced boy you see, in his younger years, in a shopping cart at Wal-Mart, being barked at by a monstrously obese mother in wedgied sweatpants and a stalagmite of a father who sweats tobacco juice and thinks the word 'coloreds' is too P.C. Orbiting the cart, filled with generic cigarette cartons, tabloids, and canned meats, are a half-dozen kids, glazed with spittle and howling like Helen Keller over the water pump, but your eyes return to the small, sad boy sitting in the cart. His gaze, imploring, suggestive of a caged intellect, breaks your heart, so you turn and comparison-shop for chewing gum or breath mints. He is condemned to a very dim horizon, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it, so you might as well buy some Altoids and forget about it...

That boy is the spiritual descendant of Huckleberry Finn.

The 'nigger' controversy -- is there still one? -- is terribly inconsequential. It almost seems too obvious to point out that this is (a) firstly a 'period novel,' meaning it that occurs at a very specific historical moment at a specific location and (b) secondly a first-person narrative, which is therefore saddled with the language, perspective, and nascent ideologies of its narrator. Should we expect a mostly uneducated, abused adolescent son of a racist alcoholic who is living in the South before the Civil War to have a respectful, intellectually-enlightened perspective toward black people? Should the character of Huck Finn, in other words, be ahistorical, anachronistic? Certainly not, if we expect any semblance of honesty from our national literature.

Far more troubling to many critics is the ending of Huckleberry Finn, when -- by a freakishly literary coincidence -- Huck Finn is mistaken for Tom Sawyer by Tom’s relatives, who happen to be holding Jim (the slave on the run) in hopes of collecting a reward from his owners. There are all sorts of contrivances in this scenario -- the likes of which haven’t been seen since the golden age of Three’s Company -- which ends with Tom arriving and devising a ridiculously elaborate scheme for rescuing Jim.

All in all, the ending didn’t bother me as much as it bothered some essayists I’ve read. That is, it didn’t strike me as especially conspicuous in a novel which relies a great deal on narrative implausibility and coincidence. Sure, Tom Sawyer is something of an idiot, as we discover, but in a novel that includes faked deaths and absurd con jobs, his idiocy seems well-placed.

In the end, I suppose the greatest thing I can say about this novel is that it left me wondering what happened to Huck Finn. Would his intellect and compassion escape from his circumstances or would he become yet another bigoted, abusive father squiring another brood of dirty, doomed children around a fluorescently-lit Wal-Mart?
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 60) (60 new)

message 1: by RandomAnthony (new)

RandomAnthony I haven't read any Twain in a long time. I thought about reading Tom Sawyer again to see if my kids would like it. But I remember reading this one for a class and having no fun at all.

David I don't shop at Wal-Mart, Elizabeth. Ever. I just took a little artistic license with this one.

Eddie Watkins Fuckin great review.

Kimley Nicely done, sir. Did you just read this or is this an old review? I don't recall reading this one before.

I've actually never been in a Wal-Mart.

message 5: by Ken (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ken Got a kick out of the Sherwood Schwartz (and if THAT ain't a hint about your age!) ending and the retarded Tom Sawyer bit. It just goes to show how difficult endings can be. Still, the novel saves itself despite Tom. I love the apropos eloquence of Huck lighting out for the Territories. How American is THAT (running away from your troubles, I mean)?

Jackie "the Librarian" It took me until the age of mumble-mumble to read this, too, David. We were reading so-called "modern novels" in my high school. Yeah, can't get through life without reading Ordinary People. I've had to catch up on classics on my own time.

You got a big laugh out of me with your wonderings about Tom Sawyer. :D

JSou Yay, your Huck Finn review is back! This was always one of my favorites of yours.

David Thanks, everyone!

Alex This review is awesome.

I read Huck Finn pretty young - several times, actually, I loved it. (My mom explained to me that the N word was okay then but it's not now. It's not rocket science.)

Wouldn't mind returning to this and Tom Sawyer now, to see how they hold up. I'd probably get whole different things from them.

Ha, rainbow parties.

Annalisa Funny that I first heard about this review on the feedbacks group when it disappeared and now it pops up in a comment thread. Lord of the Flies was my classic that I didn't read through middle school, high school, or college. It's not the same reading it as an adult, but I'd almost rather have read this one now. I can't remember much about it.

message 11: by Alex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alex Wait, Budala, are you implying that one should read Huck Finn in a bikini and Air Jordans? I mean, okay, I'm willing to try it, but that sounds a little weird.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I swear that I've voted for this one like three times previously.

Mariel Great review. It is possible that he escapes it mentally. I grew up in a dirty Southern town without its own school, surrounded by racists. It was white trash The Wire. The ability to take any one you know enables you to stretch that further into a wider population of your life. One "My granddad is a bigoted drunk" taught me a lot.

message 14: by Jini (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jini You are a great writer but your milk of human kindess is way past it's sell by date.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Watch out! He's going to raze the world to the ground for that misuse of "it's"!

message 16: by Jini (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jini Well he should...that was stupid. But it wasn't unkind

The Crimson Fucker I voted for this review cuz david asked me to vote for all of his reviews!

Mariel The 'fro is pissed I can't vote for this twice.

Nanna What's with all the spoilers?????

message 20: by Hawk (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hawk David- Huck and Tom both appear later in Twain's writings, older and wiser. OK Maybe not wiser or Huck wouldn't still be letting Tom drag him into dangerous waters. Huck can do that all on his lonesome.
thanks for your review.

message 21: by Em (new) - rated it 5 stars

Em David, I had to look up a few of the words you used(yes,yes, I'm no genius), but honestly I didn't ever think I'd enjoy reading a book review this much and @ the same time hear a great explanation for the ending that is so often attacked. Very funny and smart review

Gary  the Bookworm This review said it all. I'm definitely going to revisit Huck....with your review as my guide. Thanks.

message 23: by Sandra (new) - added it

Sandra David: Methinks you think too much of yourself as a writer. I don't think you understand why it has been a classic for all these years. I have read it two or three, maybe even four times, and I plan on re-reading it again this year. It speaks to the ages!

message 24: by David (last edited Jun 29, 2012 01:58PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

David Sandra wrote: "It speaks to the ages!"

It speaks to the trolls too, apparently!

Jason Nanna wrote: "What's with all the spoilers?????"

What's with all the substitute em-dashes?????

Nanna Many Americans become rather recalcitrant when people dislike spoilers. I wonder why.

Jason Hey, Nanna? Dumbledore dies.

Nanna See - recalcitrant :) Weird Americans. It’s like having smaller siblings. Oh well. *Overbearing sigh*

message 29: by Alan (new)

Alan You write as if you have not read Tom Sawyer, a better book in many ways: to my knowledge, no book surpasses it in its criticism of education, especially what we call "English composition," and church, especially public speech and religious requirements. Of course, the adventure plot with Injun Joe--now as controversial as the N-word--is pretty simple, and the conclusion even worse than HF, though you could argue Twain has invented the Horatio Alger conclusion. Tom is cheered to put out his money at five percent. Hmm, maybe the ending's better, more timeless, than I thought.

Susan Bailo You might want to give Puddnhead Wilson a try. It's one of Twain's lesser known works, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

message 31: by Alan (new)

Alan Susan wrote: "You might want to give Puddnhead Wilson a try. It's one of Twain's lesser known works, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it."

Thanks, maybe I'll give it another go. I have some 27 or 28 vols of the 1902 Harper & Bros print (from 1872 I think), and have looked at 'em all in parts: The $30,000 Bequest, Christian Science, The Gilded Age, Following the Equator, Joan of Arc, Tom Sawyer Abroad, Innocents Abroad, the Conn Yankee, Literary Essays, The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg, Etc., and Pudd'nhead Wilson. My favorite Twain is his Whittier 70th Birthday talk, 17 Dec 1877, addressing all the Boston literati, Longfellow, Whittier, Emerson, and Howells (presiding). Hilarious parodies of the poets, which they did not appreciate. I also like Twain's paid talks--his revealing recounting of the dif between (memorized) talks and Dickens' wonderful readings, one of which he'd seen--maybe in Dickens' 1868 tour (where, for ex, he played Providence, RI, always to a full house. Like Sinatra, Dickens would not perform unless the house was full.) Delightful, Twain's dictations (1907) called "Platform Readings" first published in DeVoto, Twain in Eruption."

message 32: by David (new)

David Didonato I can see why Twain dropped working on HF for a number of years after he originally started it. I think he became bored with doing another Tom Sawyer-ish type of book, but when he took that trip down the Mississippi, he saw such racism that he decided to use this unfinished novel to make these broad sweeping statements. Unfortunately, I think his wife may have interceded (as she was wont to do) and had him lighten up the dark mood he had created by bringing that moron Tom Sawyer back to the point that he even had him dress up as a girl (in order to ensure a hilarious effect).

message 33: by L (new) - rated it 4 stars

L R Twain's short pieces are quite good, especially the one about Adam and Eve.

Laikhuram Fuck-Hinn review this.

message 35: by Madan (new)

Madan Kanti well

message 36: by John (new) - added it

John Rooney Where is Huck?
He's Everyman. We all know him. He lives down the street and is recognized when on Memorial weekend tells anyone listening tha this all sucks. Life needs more love not celebration.

Susan .."makes the most casual reader wonder whether or not he was retarded"
That's true.

Yakub Medici Come back to the raft ag'in, Huck honey!

Matthew Eargle Sir, you just won at GoodReads.

message 40: by Kiara (new) - added it

Kiara This book only got kind of good in the second half. I think Twain was trying to get that 'timeless' sought of feel?
But miserably failed :/
It seemed like an example of why a lot of peole consider the 'greats' or 'classics' so boring
Don't get me wrong, there were times where I enjoyed it, but i had to struggle through about 6 chapters to get to each one of these moments

Chicken Boy I read this book to my chicken nuggets and they froze from all of the excitement they lost their frying virginity to the gods of herpes i love this book you should all read this it will turn your crotch red im a hick so i can relate to huck by my racist remarks and poor family

Serena Vrablik I have to write a summary for each chapter and it is torture. Do you have any suggestions on how to make it go faster?

Hannah Longhart What chapter is this quote in?

Jackie This review is awesome!

message 45: by Alan (new)

Alan Serena Vrablik wrote: "I have to write a summary for each chapter and it is torture. Do you have any suggestions on how to make it go faster?"

Sad assiagnment, designed to make you hate the book--thoug the teacher may not know that. (I say as a teacher for 38 yrs) What is the teacher reading now, on her own?

message 46: by Armin (new)

Armin Arian كتاب قشنگي بود

book worm 2000 hi

Sally Forth I do not get hung up on the use of the word
'nigger" in this particular book. It is a social commentary, and that is the way they spoke. It could have been the great american novel, but for the introduction of Tom Sawyer and his childish antics. Huck has grown up, but Tom is still a boy. Yet it ruins the book for me. When jim is on the raft relating the story of his deaf daughter, I cry.I think Huck grew up to be a fine man in California.

message 49: by Leo (new) - rated it 5 stars

Leo Walsh Great review. This has been among my favorite books since I read it in junior high. It makes me laugh out-loud. And despite the "n-word," it's about Huck realizing that Jim is a human. That he sees that is the most important here. No doubt the plot is implausible, but so is a good many modern. contemporary classics. "A Clockwork Orange" comes to mind.

I am reading this book right now for like the 15th or 20th time. And I am still laughing and endeared by Huck, and saddened by the way we treated Africans, selling them like cattle.

message 50: by Mary (new) - added it

Mary great book review. havent read this book but i am intrigued and might do it. i hope the ending is not sad.

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