Posted by: Nathan | July 3, 2006

Archive Review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

This post will kickoff an ongoing series I’ll try to continue wherein I’ll write a little review about a great book I’ve read. I certainly do not consider myself “well-read,” but I have run into a lot of great books over my few years of life. The idea is that reading for myself is always great, but others often wonder if a given book is worth perusing; I hope to help others make good use of their reading time.

I’ll start with one of my favorite books. If I had a list of the best books I’ve read, this would probably be in the top ten: Mark Twain‘s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. There are a lot of “classics” that are–well, let’s face it–kind of dull. Huck Finn is the complete antithesis of this kind of literature. Twain’s novel is hilarious, touching, wise, entertaining, and beautiful.

The characters in Huck Finn are delightful, especially Huck and Jim. Their personalities and mutual affection propel the book. The reader really grows to love them. Huck is the narrator, and Twain’s brilliance is on display as the reader can always perceive the distance between Huck’s perception of the world and what Twain is really saying about it. Frequently, this makes for delight, and occasionally for profundity. Jim is the book’s hero; a fact that should dispel any ill-conceived notion of banning this book due to racism. Jim is honorable, wise, loving, and courageous. The southern backdrop necessitates a racial dynamic, but Huck is always overcoming the stereotypes and doing things he “shouldn’t do” that show the moral depth of his character.

The other characters come and go as one expects in a picaresque. Huck’s aunts are the necessary well-intentioned, stodgy caregivers. The Duke and the King are bungling swindlers whom the reader dislikes but still manages to find pity for when they get their just deserts and Huck observes, “People can be awful cruel to one another.” Tom Sawyer infamously appears in the ending that many dislike; his presence adds to the hilarity but subtracts from the progress of the narrative.

I must also mention the dialect, which is both a joy and a bit of a bother to read. It takes some getting used to. If you read it and you can’t quite figure out what a character is saying, just sound it out out loud, and your ears will hear it. Then you’ll laugh.

The humor is just about unsurpassed in literature. Twain knows people, and he knows their shortcomings. The Duke and the King’s butchering of Shakespeare, the horrid poems of the daughter of the feuding family, and Tom and Huck’s attempts to help Jim escape slavery when he’s already been freed made me laugh until tears gushed out. It is truly a delightful and comical novel.

As wonderful as the humor is (and it is wonderful), it’s the heart of the book that makes it timeless. Twain captures a little bit of life and portrays it so that anyone can understand and feel it. Huck’s world is complex and very different from ours but somehow still the same. There is always the right thing to be foud and acted upon. Huck Finn plunges into issues like slavery, suffering, justice, and morality without being preachy or pedantic–the book always pulls at, breaks, or fills the heart.

My boy Hemingway famously said that all American literature begins and ends with Huck Finn. Who am I to argue? Mark Twain’s novel is a book filled with life; not dismal life or rosy-colored life, but life as it is: full of trials and joys. Truly, it is a masterpiece.

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Responses

  1. Great post!

  2. Thank you my friend! I am looking forward to future posts on great literature. I am also looking forward to reading Huck Finn again.


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