Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel by Mark Twain, originally published in 1884. It is the sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Ernest Hemingway (and many others) called it the greatest American novel ever. Huck Finn picks up right where Tom Sawyer left off – Huck's abusive father appears to lay claim to Huck's fortune, so Huck fakes his own death and goes down the Mississippi River with Jim, the escaped slave.

Much like Tom Sawyer, there's not a lot of plot going on here most of the time, and that's okay, because Twain's writing is extremely entertaining. Twain has a good old time mocking social conventions, and the novel is gripping almost all the way through. Hemingway was right: the end of Huck Finn is poor. After Jim is abducted and Tom Sawyer reappears, things just get silly, not to mention highly convenient (And Tom Sawyer here is just as immature as he ever was, reinforcing that no real maturation occurred in Tom Sawyer, and that that book really isn't a coming-of-age story in the truest sense).

Twain has made Huck the narrator. On the whole, this works, although it gets tiresome to read Huck's dialect sometimes. Twain-as-narrator is definitely missed here. Nobody could write a clever sentence like Twain, and most of that is lost here, although occasionally Huck will turn one (and by doing so break character, but that's the price you pay).

Huck Finn has been exceedingly controversial because of the extensive use of the n-word. So is the novel racist? Certainly the characters have the racism of the day ingrained in them – in that sense, it is racist. But more important to most people is whether Twain was racist; that is, whether he put his own personal racism in the book. That is harder to determine, especially since Twain has made Huck the narrator. Perhaps the fairest thing to say is that Twain was genuinely criticizing racism, but the way in which he portrayed Jim and the other characters contains some residual racism of its own.

So is Huck Finn America's greatest novel? Well, maybe not. But it's definitely up there.