Huckleberry Finn The Great American Novel
American Literary Masterpieces
April 31, 2007
Huckleberry Finn; The Great American Novel
Mark Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the most feared books in America because it has withstood heavy criticism, censorship, and even banning. However, it is still an essential novel of the American culture. Every American can learn from it because it covers problems that go to the heart of social issues in America. Through this book, Mark Twain tackles American issues of racism, hypocrisy, slavery, and finding truth. These things overcome the criticisms and negativity, making The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn the greatest American novel.
The story on the surface is a very simple one. A young boy, Huckleberry Finn, runs away from a society he doesn’t understand and joins a runaway, a slave named Jim. They travel down the Mississippi River and a father-son bond forms between the two. The fact that Huckleberry Finn is a young boy attributes to the novel’s greatness. Huck is at a critical age in a person’s life; he is young enough to still be searching for who he is, yet old enough that society has had time to imprint ideas and prejudices in his head. Also the adventure has many sub-stories that brings young readers in, in addition Twain makes Huck a very relatable character, William Ferris says:
It is a book students relate to because of the youth of the author…there is nothing between one young person, the reader, looking at this other young person and leaping into his world…[Students] also see the boy as a survivor, who has dealt with great difficulty and who has managed to go beyond this. (1-2)
However, the novel is popular with the adult crowds as well. A look past this seemingly straightforward plot will reveal more than just a boy floating on a raft. Toni Morrison says:
Usually the divide is substantial: if a story that pleased us as novice readers does not disintegrate as we get older, it maintains its value only in its retelling for other novices or to summon uncapturable pleasures as playback. Also the books that academic critics find consistently rewarding are works only particularly available to the minds of young readers Adventures of Huckleberry Finn manages to close that divide, and one of the reasons it requires no leap is that in addition to the reverence the novel stimulates its ability to transform its contradictions into fruitful complexities and to seem to be deliberately cooperating in the controversy it has excited. The brilliance of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is that it is the argument it raises. (386)
Each new read uncovers new messages about life that help Americans question the society that they live in; questions that can help Americans learn about their morals and one day improve them.
One important topic covered in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is slavery. In the chapter where Huck lies to Aunt Sally about an explosion that injured no one, but “killed a nigger,” Aunt Sally coldheartedly answers, “Well, it’s lucky, because sometimes people do get hurt (Twain 213).” Aunt Sally has come to believe that African Americans are not people, but Huck does not understand; he does not see why the “nigger” is not considered a man. This stirs up questions that American people should ask themselves; “Is this right? Should races other than whites not be considered people?” Mark Twain answers this question later in the novel when Huck tricks Jim, then realizes his mistake and apologizes to him, “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself to go and humble myself to a nigger (Twain 95).” Huck overcomes the prejudice that society has put inside him and puts himself level with his friend, because he knows that an African American man deserves an apology just as much as a white American. With this realization comes the most important and best known moment in the book. This moment is when Huck discards all thoughts that slaves aren’t equal saying “All right then, I’ll go to Hell (Twain 223) in regards to keeping Jim free. Slavery has been abolished since this book, however there is still racism today, and by learning from Huck’s actions a book written for past generations can still change the world today.
The book further tears apart American society by exposing the hypocrisy and societies moral ambiguity. He is told that smoking is bad by the Widow Douglas, and yet she uses snuff. Judges can give white men rights to another human with no question of it being wrong. Huck sees the evil in this and decides he prefers to uncivilized. Huck encounters liars, such as the Duke, who hurt innocent people. However, Tawin does not portray Huck as a perfect child who never lies, which would make the story very unrealistic and therefore have less impact. Huck simply knows the difference between right and wrong. For example when he meets hunters and lies to them to save his friends. Huckleberry Finn is true to himself, and to that Lionel Trilling says:
Truth is the whole boy’s conscious demand upon the world of adults. He is likely to believe that the adult world is in a conspiracy to lie to him, and it is this belief, by no means unfounded, that arouses Tom and Huck and all boys to their moral sensitivity, their everlasting concern with justice, which they call fairness. At the same time it often makes them skillful and profound liars in their own defense, yet they do not tell the ultimate lie of adults; they do not lie to themselves.
This moral sensitivity helps Huck see things though absorbent eyes. He analyzes situations in his world and uses his own judgment to determine right and wrong; understanding what is morally right and what is only right in terms of looking “civilized”. Through this young boy’s eyes readers see the corruptions in society’s value.
Because twain wrote Huck’s about slavery and hypocrisy in a very realistic light his story should shock readers. One critic, William Ferris, said:
“To me, Huck Finn is important for many reasons, one of which is that it provokes more questions than it provides answers. This idea of questioning I think is very important – that the students question, try to understand, discover there might not be only one answer but several, and also discover that there is some unfinished business and that perhaps the ending of the book, as unsatisfactory as is it to so many readers, reflects that unfinished business. (7)”
This unfinished business is that of slavery and hypocrisy, and by exposing the problems in a realistic point of view, the problems can someday be taken care of. “Twain lay bare the depravity of a society that views life as a circus, as some kind of romantic show…Huck knows that romanticism is a way of faking the nature of reality (Lynn 215)”. Because Huck knows this, Mark Twain obviously knows this which shows that Twain deliberately lead into controversy by not making the novel just another “romantic show”. Perhaps the banning, criticisms, and censorships are not due to the fact that Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a bad book, but because the Americans do not want to admit they are in the wrong; which exposes yet another flaw in society today. If the past is covered up and turned into some shallow entertaining novel, none of the social issues in America will ever be resolved.
Mark Twain used an amazing book, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and exposed problems nobody wanted to talk about. Twain uses a bright young boy to teach youth and adults a wonderful story of questioning society. His goal, to improve life in America, can only be reached by realizing how truly important this novel is. By reaching out to the public with incredibly truth, Mark Twain has made Adventures of Huckleberry Finn into the greatest American novel.
Ferris, William. “Trying to Tame Huck Finn.” Humanities 21.1:4 Academic Search Elite. 3 May, 2007. Http://search.ebscohost.com.
Lynn, Kenneth. Huck and Jim. Yale review, 1958.
Morrison, Toni. This Amazing, Troubling Book. New York: Oxford, 1996.
Trilling, Lionel. The Greatness of Huckleberry Finn. Rinehart Editions, 1948.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Oxford, 19963